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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Meet Taco, the Desert Tortoise!

It’s nearing the end of February, which means our desert tortoises (Taco, Rufus, and Guacamole) are expected to come out of hibernation any time now. Here in the southern California desert, we experienced a cooler winter this year, but spring is beginning to nudge its way in with recent warm spells over the last few weeks, alternating with cooler temperatures (meaning down in the 70’s/low 40’s for our day/night time highs).

Rufus and Guacamole are 8 year old sibling desert tortoises adopted in 2005. They have each stepped in for Taco a few times for public talks and programs.

Taco is Caliso Learning's own ambassador. He is a lifelong resident of the Coachella Valley, hatched in captivity in La Quinta, CA. During his 33 years, he has visited thousands of students and adults to teach the importance of habitat conservation and species protection, as well as animal adaptation to the desert environment, and the handling and care of non-releasable desert tortoises. You could say Taco is a tortoise of action as he’s helped spread these important messages in the trenches by: visiting classrooms, libraries, youth centers, museums, and even through a personal interview for the Los Angeles Times. All this work has kept Taco busy, but he still finds time for hibernation. His best advice: "Slow down in life. Take the time to stop and smell the flowers. Then eat them."

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True to their scientific name--Gopherus agassizii, gopherus meaning "burrower"--Taco, Rufus, and Guacamole typically hibernate on their own in winter burrows they’ve dugged themselves by extending their existing burrows even deeper. However this year, Rufus and Guacamole are spending the second half of their hibernation in a pet carrier in a non-insulated room, due to the threat of flooding from this season’s storms. Taco’s yard and burrow were not threatened by flooding. The three typically enter hibernation in early October and emerge for spring (often mid-February); Taco usually wakes up a good three weeks after Rufus and Guacs have come out. But no one has become active yet!

Any guesses on when these hardy desert critters will emege from their burrows in search of their favorite spring meal (wildflowers) and a looong drink of water?