Courtesy Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association
Tuesday, March 29, 2011 | 4:22 p.m.
Spring has arrived in Southern Nevada, according to Mojave Max, the desert tortoise that serves as Las Vegas’ version of Punxsutawney Phil.
Mojave Max emerged from his burrow at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area at 2:03 p.m. Tuesday, nine days after the spring equinox and nearly two months after the groundhog in Pennsylvania predicted an early spring.
Desert tortoises enter a burrow each fall to brumate, the reptilian form of hibernation. The timing of the tortoise’s exit is influenced by temperature, the length of days and the animal’s internal clock, officials said.
In the last decade, Max has emerged as late as April 14 (in 2008) and as early as Feb. 14 (in 2005).
This year, March’s weather was mixed, with some early warm days followed by cold, said Christina Gibson, spokeswoman for the county’s Desert Conservation Center. But Max wasn’t fooled, she said -- he actually dug deeper into his burrow, waiting to come out until the cold was over.
The county, Clark County School District, Bureau of Land Management and the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association have used Mojave Max as the basis for a contest for more than 10 years. Local students guess when the tortoise will emerge.
The winning student will get a year pass to federal lands and a laptop computer, and the student’s class will receive a field trip to Mojave Max’s habitat, medals and T-shirts. The winning student’s teacher also will receive a laptop.
Officials are tabulating the entries now and will announce a winner in a few weeks, Gibson said.