The Gila Monster

Often described as scary and revolting, the Gila Monster is a large venomous lizard.

Growing up to two feet long and weight up to five pounds, the Gila Monster is a large, venomous lizard. Pronounced "Hee-la," the Gila Monster is native to northern Mexico and the southern United States such as Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. They can be found in rocky foothills, desert and shrub land. Their shelter consists of rocks, fallen trees and branches and holes or dens dug out by them or a previous occupant.

Although they are venomous, death from a Gila Monster bite rarely happen. Gila Monsters are shy creatures and lead a solitary life, avoiding human and large animal encounters whenever possible. If they feel threatened or become alarmed they will open their mouths wide and hiss to warn off any potential predators.

The head and body of a Gila Monster is large with a thick, short tail and wide spread, short legs. Their backs are covered with small, beadlike scales while their underside has larger scales. They have black bodies with either yellow, pink, red or orange running through it. Depending on where the Gila Monster was located, the color may appear blotched or have ring down the body. The scales on a young Gila are more vibrant and fresh, as they age their color become plain and dull.

Gila Monsters are meat eaters, feeding on rodents, birds, other lizards, frogs and small animals as well as insects, worms and eggs. The eyesight of a Gila is rather poor, they hunt instead by relying on smell and taste. They are slow moving and must sneak up on its prey in order to catch and bite it, before it has a chance to get away.

A Gila Monster will only eat a few times a year and when they do, they are able to consume 1/3 their own body weight in food in just one feeding. They spend the majority of their life underground, only coming up to the surface now and again. When they eat, fat is stored in their tails so it can be used at a later time. Being able to store fat in their tails enables them to remain underground for months at a time without eating.

Mating for Gila Monsters occurs during the months of May and June. A male Gila will flick his tongue in and out until he picks up the scent of a female. If she likes him, matting will happen, lasting between 15 minutes and 2 ½ hours. If she does not like him and rejects him, she will bite him and leave.

If successful mating takes place a female will lay 2 to 12 eggs called a clutch. The female will burry the eggs and four months later baby Gila Monster will make their way to the surface. When born the are only a few inches long and already capable of biting and releasing venom. Right away they are on their own and they seem to know just what to do to survive.