Gila Monster

Heloderma suspectum

The Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) lives in California, Arizona, New Mexico, et cetera, as well as in Australia.

The Gila monster typically has a black, scaly skin, with orange stripes. Adult lizards are between 18 and 23 inches (46 to 61 centimeters for our metric friends)long. It also can have salmon-colored stripes, and a pale, almost cream-colored body, depending on breed and such. It's heavily built and moves slowly on four short legs, dragging a thick, short, blunt tail. Fat is stored in the tail, and the lizard can live for months on this reserve.

The Gila monster is one of the only poisonous lizards around (the other known poisonous lizard being the Beaded lizard), but it tries to avoid using its poison. Basically, you don't threaten it, it won't kill you.

Gila monsters eat mostly small rodents, juvenile birds, and bird and reptile eggs. In captivity, however, they usually eat chicken eggs or whatnot.

Gila Monsters are beautiful animals, but they are illegal to catch, kill, or keep in Arizona (and elsewhere in the US, I imagine). This doesn't stop them from visiting our house, however, and we never refuse visitors our hospitality. Though we usually greet guests with a drink and a comfy sofa to sit on, we adapt that for reptiles to a warm, sand-filled terrarium, a dish of water, and (in the case of Gila Monsters) fresh eggs.

Seriously, Gila Monsters like lots of sand, and some of them will eat chicken eggs. Put their terrarium near the window, or they will become torpid in your air-conditioned house. Gila Monsters like to eat quail eggs, but those are difficult to find, and the quail have a hard enough time defending their nests without human interference. Two Gila Monsters may be kept in the same cage without incident -- if they are territorial, it's probably only at certain times of year.

Gila Monsters are venomous, but the likelihood you will ever be bitten by one is nil. Only two documented cases of Gila Monster bites exist in southern Arizona, one of them being quite fantastic, and the other being an experimental researcher forcing the lizard to bite his arm so he could test his antidotes. He survived without incident.

The other guy was doing motorcycle stunts in a wash, jumping ramps and whatnot, when he lost control of his bike as he was getting airborne. He got thrown off in mid-air, landed hard on some rocks, broke some bones, and by incredible coincidence put his hand into the open mouth of a lounging Gila Monster, which promptly bit him. He reported that it was extremely painful and that several people had to help disengage the lizard. No lasting effects from the venom.

The only other poisonous lizard in existence is the Mexican Beaded Lizard, which lives a little further south and looks quite similar.

Gi"la mon"ster (?). Zool.

A large tuberculated lizard (Heloderma suspectum) native of the dry plains of Arizona, New Mexico, etc. It is the only lizard known to have venomous teeth.


© Webster 1913.

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