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What Is the Gila Monster?

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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 23 July 2014
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Known scientifically as Heloderma suspectum, the Gila (HEE-luh) monster is a poisonous lizard found in parts of the United States and Mexico. This large lizard has a distinct pattern on its body. A Gila monster can typically be found underground, but it will occasionally come above ground to feed. Since these lizards are considered to be threatened in their native habitats, most areas have laws against harming them.

This animal was first discovered in the Gila river basin in Arizona. They are native to the southwester parts of the United States (US) and the northwestern parts of Mexico, particularly the state of Sonora. Since they prefer hot and dry environments, they are usually found in the Mojave, Chihuahuan, and Sonoran deserts.

The Gila monster is thought to be the only venomous lizard that is native to the US. Mexico, on the other hand, is home to another larger venomous lizard, the Mexican beaded lizard. It looks similar to a Gila monster, but it is a little larger and has a duller coloring.

The bodies of Gila monsters are black, but they are covered with varying distinct patterns. These can be simple splotches of color, or they can be bands of color. The color of these patterns is usually orange, yellow, or even pink. These lizards can grow to be as long as 2 feet (61 centimeters). They can also weigh as much as 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms).

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The two subspecies of the Gila monster include the reticulated and banded varieties. Reticulated Gila monsters have splotches of color. Banded Gila Monsters, on the other hand, have bands of color.

The venom of a Gila monster, which is considered to be a mild neurotoxin, flows out of grooves found in its teeth. The animal will chew on a victim, and this poison enters the blood stream through these open wounds. While Gila monster bites can be rather painful, they are not usually fatal to humans. In fact, as of 2011, there have been no recorded deaths from bites inflicted by these reptiles.

Humans are not likely to be threatened by a Gila monster anyway. These lizards usually spend a good portion of their lives underground. They will either dig their own burrows or steal abandoned burrows. They are also considered to be slow, so being chased by a lizard of this sort is not likely.

Usually, a Gila monster will choose to raid other animals' nests for food. Its diet consists primarily of eggs and baby mammals. During the winter months, the fat stored in the lizard's large tail will keep him sustained. He can go without eating for months, if necessary.

Due to human encroachment, Gila monsters are considered to be a dying species. They are often killed simply because they are poisonous. In many areas, like Nevada and Arizona, these lizards are considered to be a protected species.

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