Species Spotlight: Gila Monster

November 7, 2010, 5:28 pm

The Gila monster is one of the southwest’s most fascinating species. As one of only two species of venomous lizards in North America, this lizard is as unique as it its shy.

Scientists estimate that Gila monsters spend 95 percent of their time underground. These animals are also so sluggish in nature that they eat only five to ten times a year.  Despite these facts, the Gila monster has earned a fearsome reputation in part aided by its venom, distinct markings and bead-like scales.

The Gila monster gets its name from the Gila River Basin in Arizona where it was once plentiful. Today Gila monsters can be found throughout southwest seeking shelter in burrows or under rocks where moisture is plentiful.

Although Gila monsters pose little threat to humans, they have been the victims of misunderstanding throughout the years. In 1952, Gila monsters became the first venomous animal to be given legal protection. Both Arizona and Nevada state law make it illegal to harm Gila monsters.

Species Fun Facts:

  • Although Gila monsters eat only 5 to 10 times a year, they often eat up to 1/3 of their body mass.
  • Gila monsters typically feed on bird and reptile eggs. Gila monsters can locate buried eggs up to 6 inches deep with their acute sense of smell.
  • Gila monsters do not have the ability to inject venom like snakes; rather their venom is released by chewing. 


Image courtesy of National Park Service