Monday, March 10, 2014


Sheriff Jeff: Have you heard the reports of a "giant lizard"?
Mr. Wheeler: Yes, but it's just not possible.
Sheriff Jeff: Well, why not? There have been giants before!
(The Giant Gila Monster – 1959 movie)

When I was a kid I believed that any creature that was referred to as a ‘monster’ was really cool. But I thought of monsters as mythical, and we would only read about them in fantasy stories or see them on a movie screen. I learned that there is one real animal called ‘monster’ and he lives in the United States.

Meet The Gila Monster! (His first name is pronounced Hela - ˈhē-lə-. )

 In the United States, the Gila Monster is listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. Once again, the reason for this status is due to habitat destruction, which includes “overgrazing, truck farming, and the planting of cotton.” (Smithsonian Nat’l Zoo Fact Page)

The Gila Monster is venomous. Although it’s venom can be as deadly as that of the Diamondback Rattler, the delivery system of the Gila Monster, that is the way a Gila Monster gets its venom into you, is not as efficient as that of the snake. Snakes inject their venom through hollow fangs on their upper jaw. The Gila Monster has grooves in their bottom teeth and instead of injected the venom, they release it by a method called capillary action.  Capillary action is the ability of a liquid to flow without the need of an external force, like gravity.

Here’s the really scary part: A snake strikes, injects venom and then releases. The Gila Monster bites but does not release. He has a very tenacious (firm) bite. He will latch on firmly to his victim and actually chew. This is how they deliver their venom. Although there is no known reported deaths by a Gila Montster’s bite, the bite is said to be extremely painful. I am happy to say that I can’t give you any first hand reports on this. I have never seen a Gila Monster in the wild, but I think I would like to. They have beautiful colors on their backs, ranging from pink to orange. How adventurous are you? Would you like to see one lumbering along in the desert? 

The Gila Monster is one of only two venomous lizards near our home in the US. The other venomous lizard lives in Central America and he is called the Mexican Bearded Lizard. The below map shows were the Gila Monster lives. 

If you look closely at the pictures of the Gila monster you will notice that it has a very stocky build, is low to the ground and has short legs. All these characteristics combine to make him a lethargic lizard (slow moving). When he is out hunting, he prefers small birds and mammals, eggs, lizards, frogs, insects, and carrion for dinner. He usually eats eggs because once the chicks hatch, they can outrun him. 

If you are walking in the Sonoran Desert in the Southwest, you will probably not see him. The Gila Monster likes to stay in burrows. As a matter of fact, he stays in his burrow 98% of the time. He is capable of eating very big meals so he can stay underground longer. He also stores fat in his tail, which enables him to go for months without eating. 

The Gila Monster plays a part in American Indian Mythology. The Navajo Indians believed that when the Gila Monster crawls around, his front foot trembles. The Indians call him the original hand-trembler, which means that he can foretell the nature of illness and protect people from those illnesses. ( I find American Mythology to be fascinating. American Indians were very in tune with nature and created many legends that included animals which had an effect on their daily lives. 

There is another famous poisonous lizard I would like to mention. It lives on the island of Komodo in Indonesia. The Komodo Dragon is a monitor lizard and is huge in contrast to the Gila Monster. The Komodo Dragon and grow to a length of more than ten feet and weigh approximately three hundred-fifty pounds. The Gila Monster will grow to a length of about two feet and can weighs only about five pounds. The Komodo Dragon is certainly King of Lizards. 

In the past, scientists believed that the Komodo Dragon was not venomous.  However, scientists now agree that it is. You can read more about this at the below link: 

In researching for this post, I found many conflicting articles about the Komodo Dragon’s venom or lack thereof. There also seems to be disagreement about venomous lizards in general. Some articles say there are only a few; others said that there are many. I feel confident in reporting that there are more than just a few venomous lizards, but this is true when you include iguanas and monitor lizards.

I have found a very good video for you to watch. You will note that the narrator mentions the number of poisonous lizards. He also talks about the bite of the Gila Monster and gives you first hand information on what it is like.


I hope you liked reading about the Gila Monster and that you will come back next week to learn about another unusual animal.

My sincere thanks to the following websites for their information and some of the pictures:

Jeanne E. Rogers, Author
Award Winning Middle Grade Fantasy Where Endangered Animal Heroes Roam the Pages! 
Buy it on Amazon and Barnes & Nobel  

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