Gila Monster

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Description: Measuring up to two feet in length, the Gila Monster is the only poisonous lizard found in the United States. Nevertheless, attacks on humans are exceedingly rare as the lizard is extremely slow moving and could only bite a human (under normal circumstances) when handled. Gila Monster bites are said to be very painful but not fatal. Currently, Gila Monster saliva is used in the manufacture of a drug found effective in managing type-2 Diabetes.

The Gila Monster is a bulky lizard that can weigh up to five pounds. There are two sub-species of Gila Monster, the Reticulated Gila Monster and the Banded Gila Monster. The Reticulated version has lighter markings that are broken up by dark scales and the Banded version has unbroken bands of lighter scales. Both are black or brown in coloration with salmon, yellow, or orange patterned markings throughout the body. As the Gila monster grows older, these colors become paler. This lizard has an extremely thick tail which serves as a storage unit for fat. It also has a thick black tongue used to smell and sharp claws for digging. Unlike many lizards, the Gila Monster is in a constant state of shedding, as it sheds it skin in small parts.

Diet: The largely sedentary Gila Monster feeds on the eggs of birds and reptiles. It will also eat frogs, lizards, insects, and carrion.

Range/Habitat: The Gila Monster is a common lizard of the Desert Southwest and ranges throughout the region into Mexico. They are most often found in desert scrublands, oak woodlands, and other dry habitats. This lizard, however, spends at least 95% of its time underground in burrows.

Breeding: The Gila Monster mates in May or June and the female lays 2-12 eggs in the sand in July or August. The hatchlings will emerge from the sand approximately nine months later and have larger bands of color than the adults.

Status: The Gila Monster is still common, but populations have been declining for several decades because of habitat destruction and indiscriminate killing by ignorant humans. They are classified as “near threatened” and are protected in Arizona and Nevada.