New Spring looks due the Mojave Max

Tuesday, April 17th 2012. | Science News

Mojave_MaxMojave Max is supposed to emerge from his burrow each year to signal the start of spring-like weather in Southern Nevada. So in this year without winter what has the valley’s most famous reptile been waiting for?

Max finally dragged his shell out of the ground for the first time at 12:41 p.m. Tuesday. It was the latest the desert tortoise has emerged from his winter slumber since 2000, besting the old mark by a three full days.

But don’t go blaming this cold-blooded creature for having a shoddy internal thermometer. Though the weather may have seemed unusually mild to us humans so far this year, it hasn’t been consistently warm, at least not by nature’s standards.

“People think, ‘Hey, I had my shorts last week,’ but if you look at the temperatures it has only been warm for short stretches,” said Christina Gibson, spokeswoman for Clark County’s Desert Conservation Program. Tortoises and other hibernating animals are tuned to respond to the gradual shift of seasons, not momentary changes in the weather that could find them awake in the middle of winter with nothing to eat.

“Species can’t be tricked the way people can be tricked,” Gibson said.

Max’s late emergence will soon pay off for one lucky young pessimist.

As part of the 13th annual Mojave Max Emergence Contest, local school students studied climate in the desert and submitted their own educated guesses for when they thought Mojave Max would first crawl out of his burrow at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

The contest entries are now being tabulated, and the official winner is slated to be announced next week, Gibson said.

The winning student will receive a laptop computer and a year-long pass to Red Rock Canyon and other federal parks. The winner’s teacher also gets a laptop, and the entire class gets a field trip to the Red Rock Canyon visitors center to “meet” Mojave Max and eat pizza.

The contest was launched in 2000 as a way to get school children interested in science and the natural world.

Before Tuesday, the latest Mojave Max has come out of its burrow was April 14, which he did in 2008. The earliest Max has emerged was Feb. 14, which happened in 2005.

So what does it all mean?

“It means it really is the start of spring,” Gibson said.

Or so the tortoise tells us.

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