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Animal Information

Gila Monster Great Southwest

Gila Monster

Heloderma suspectum

Biome: Great Southwest

Classification: Reptiles

Biography: Of the 3,000 lizard species in the world, only the gila monster and the Mexican beaded lizard are venomous, and both inhabit similar geographic ranges. The gila monster eats eggs, young birds, small rodents and insects in the wild. The gila does not administer its venom through two hollow fangs like a rattlesnake does. The venom glands of a gila monster are located in the lower jaw. Ducts lead to openings close to the base of grooved teeth in the lower jaw. The opening and closing of the mouth causes the venom to discharge into the saliva, travel along the grooved teeth and into the intended victim. The longer the lizard holds on, the more severe is the venomous bite. They are notorious for their "bulldog-like" grip and reluctance to release a seized item. None of their prey is difficult to subdue and venom is probably rarely used to get food. It is generally believed that the venom is used for defense. Bites to people are usually the result of careless handling, and not the result of an aggressive attack, since these lizards are quite inoffensive and must be severely provoked to bite.

Gila monsters have very thick cylindrical tails in which they generally maintain large fat reserves. The tail is not normally detachable and if it does break off, it will not regenerate. Their tongues are fleshy and deeply forked. While exploring, the gila monster flicks its tongue repeatedly, while it samples the air and substrate for information about the environment.

Like most venomous animals, the gila monster has been relentlessly pursued by man. It is now protected by law in Arizona.

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