For a reptile with such a frightening name, Gila
Monster isn't what you would imagine. There is more to
this lizard than its reputation suggests.
Gila Monster Origins
Like other lizards, Gila Monsters have origins that can be
traced to thousands of years in the past. These particular
lizards however seem to retain features that are similar to
their early ancestors. We are in effect able to view what an
ancient species of lizard from the genus Heloderma would look
like. the Gila Monster derives its name from the Gila
River of Arizona. Aside from this part of the U.S. these
lizards can also be found in other southwestern U.S. regions as
well as in northern Mexico.
The most likely origin for its reputation is its venomous
trait. The Gila Monster species holds the distinction of being
one of only two known venomous lizard species. The other
venomous lizard is its relative, the beaded lizard.
Gila Monster Traits
The Gila Monster is considered the largest American
lizard. They are however, considerably smaller than the
gigantic komodo dragons. A Gila Monster can grow no bigger than
a little over two feet. For their size and weight of about
three pounds, they look a bit stout.
A Gila Monster is easily recognizable by its short fat tail
that cannot grow back when cut and its colorful scales. Its
scales can come in yellow, black, pink and orange with older
lizards showing lighter colors. There are two main types of
Gila lizards. One type has a more solid band of light scales.
The other type has a reticulated scale pattern which means its
black scales interrupt its light colored scales.
Gila Monster Diet
The Gila Monster has a very efficient method of locating food.
It uses its strong sense of smell and its flicking tongue to
hunt for food. Despite its frightening name, it only feeds on
bird eggs, reptile eggs, tortoise eggs, birds, lizards and
small baby mammals. Like other lizards, Gila Monsters swallow
their food whole. In cold winter months, when there is limited
food supply and when these lizards hibernate, Gila lizards
benefit from the fat stored in their tails.
Gila Monster Habits
The Gila Monster doesn't lunge at or attack humans. Although
they are venomous, they only bite when they are threatened.
They are not natural aggressors because they move very slowly
and prefer to live inactive lives. This is also the most
probable reason for their choice of equally inactive or slow
food. The Gila Monster does not live in groups, preferring to
fend for themselves. These lizards are only found with each
other when it is time to mate.
Gila Monster Status
As with many animals and lizards, human movement and activities
have endangered this species. They are considered a threatened
species. In the U.S. they are protected by law and should not
be sold or bought as pets. In any case, keeping, handling and
petting a Gila Monster may prove dangerous. Do not touch any
lizard that you may find lost near your property if you aren’t
sure of its species.