Gila monsters are the largest living lizards native to the United States of America. Their name originated from Arizona’s Gila River basin, the same place where they were originally discovered.
Pronounced HEE-LA, these lizards are also one of the only two known venomous lizards on earth.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Reptilia
- Order: Squamata
- Family: Helodermatidae
- Genus: Heloderma
- Scientific Name: Heloderma Suspectum
- Diet: Carnivore
- Size: 30 to 60cm (12 to 24in)
- Weight: 1.3 to 2.2kg (3 to 5lbs)
- Top Speed: 24km/h (15mph)
- Lifespan: 20 to 30 years
- Lifestyle: Solitary
- Conservation Status: Threatened
- Colour: Grey, White, Black, Tan, Brown
- Skin Type: Scales
- Main Food: Eggs
- Habitat: Shrub-land, woodland, and desert
- Average Clutch Size: 8
- Main Prey: Eggs, birds, reptiles, and small mammals
- Predators: Birds of prey, coyotes, and Humans
- Special Features: Venomous nite and fat-storing tail
Size and description
Gila monsters possess large and stout bodies and short, fat tails. They commonly grow to around 50 centimeters (20 inches) and can weigh approximately 1.8 kilos (4 lbs), according to National Geographic.
The head and neck of a Gila monster are broad, and they have black eyes with round pupils. They have their bodies covered with beaded scales and pink, bright black, orange, and yellow patterns.
They also have wide feet that’s characterized by long and very sharp claws.
Gila monsters can only be found in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan deserts in northwestern Mexico and southwestern parts of the United States.
Gila monsters spend around 95% of their lives in their underground homes that are naturally located in rocky foothills.
A group of these monster lizards is known as a lounge, which is understandable since they usually lay around soaking up the sun’s rays. As a matter of fact, other than hunting for food, sunbathing is basically the only reason a Gila would leave its home.
How active a Gila monster is, depends on the weather. They usually would only surface at night time if the sun is really hot, and show up during the day if the day is a bit cooler.
Similar to other lizards, Gila monsters also lay eggs. A female Gila can lay 3 to 13 eggs at a go, and she gets to incubate them for about four months. A Gila egg is usually about 6.3 cm (2.5 inches) long and can weigh about 40 grams (1.4 ounces).
A Gila baby can be about 16 cm (6.3 inches) long. It also takes 3 to 5 years for a Gila to reach full maturity where they go on to live for 20 or more years.
Gila monsters eat meat, meaning they are carnivores. Because they are lazy predators, they prefer easy meals, such as newborn mammals and eggs.
These lizards do not chew their food, but they can swallow eggs whole. When a Gila monster is ready to feed, it eats in style. They can consume a third of their body weight at a time.
Gilas also prey on other lizards, insects, rodents, frogs, carrion, and worms. If it happens that they aren’t able to leave their burrows to forage for food, they simply fall back on the fat stored in their tails and can go in for months without any need for food.
This trait is quite useful during winter when they stay in hibernation all season.
Gila monsters naturally use their venomous saliva in defending themselves rather than hunting. When threatened, the monster clamps down tight and doesn’t let go.
The toxin travels from the glands present in their jaws, pass the grooves in the lizards’ teeth, and into the broken skin of their victim. Then they chew deeper into their victim’s flesh to ensure a large deposit of their venom has been delivered.
Although their bites has been described as insanely painful, it’s incredible how it isn’t deadly to humans. But it’s always best to be careful when handling these big boys.
The effect of their bite may include nausea, swelling, high blood pressure, vomiting, general weakness, excessive sweating, fainting spells, fever, and chills.
There’s currently no anti-venom for a Gila’s bite. The first most important step to treatment is to make the monster let go. Prying the jaws of the lizard is completely recommended.
First aid should also be introduced, and that should include irrigating the wound using water, then immobilize the affected limb at heart level. You must also check the bitten spot for any broken tooth. Immediate medical attention is required if a person has been bitten.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, Gila monsters are on the threatened list.
It is estimated that the Gila monster population is on a fast decline, although there are no exact numbers yet. Mexico and the United States strictly prohibit the collection of Gila monsters.
Other facts about the Gila monster
- Gila monsters can run at a speed of 1.6 km/h (1 mph.
- They are of two venomous lizards that are venomous (the other is known as the Mexican beaded lizard, Heloderma Horridum), and they are closely related. They use their venom to kill their prey.
- Gilas use their tails to balance themselves when walking.
- A Gila might seem lazy, but they’re determined enough to climb on a cactus just to get to a nest full of delicious eggs.
- Gila monsters are covered by bead-like scales known as osteoderms. Similar to the bright colors on poisonous frogs, Gilas have bright colors on their scales that are thought to wade predators off.
- Surprisingly, the saliva from a Gila monster is used in the treatment of Type II diabetes. According to the San Diego zoo, the drug has been nicknamed the “lizard spit.”
Are there other facts about the Gila monster you’d like to share with us? Have you ever heard about the Gila monster before now? Do you find them fascinating enough? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.