Tucson Wildlife Center

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RAWR!!!(Gila)Monsters in the News!

Gila-Monster-Eyes gila_monster1Fear:(Noun) An Unpleasant emotion caused by a belief that someone or something is dangerous;likely to cause pain or a threat.

Myth:(Noun)A widely held but false belief of an idea.

Gila Monsters are one creature that often falls victim to both.Seeing the largest lizard in North America is a rare treat ,as they spend up to 90% of their lives under ground,surviving on fat stored in their thick tails.A good time to spot them is April and June,when courtship and breeding takes place.They are usually pink and black in color,which sends a warning to ¬†potential predators”Don’t mess with me!”and grow up ¬†to around 2 feet long.They can live about 20 years in the wild,and have been known to live up to 30 years in captivity.Due to their somewhat fierce appearance,this beautiful,docile creature is often killed or moved out of their home range,which in itself is almost always a death sentence.Below are some common myths,and interesting facts about these misconceived monsters-enjoy!


Myth :A Gila Monster is poisonous

Fact:This one is tricky – a Gila Monster is actually¬†venomous.So,what’s the difference?Poison is a substance that is secreted by an organism’s external covering,I.E skin,leaves etc.Venom,however,must be injected via fangs or stingers.This toxin is usually stored in specialized glands,in the case of the Gila Monster,it is stored in modified salivary glands.They are one of 2 ¬†venomous lizards in the world.

Myth:Gila Monster’s will shoot venom,and have toxic breath! Both will surely kill you .

Fact:Gila’s only way of injecting their venom is with their powerful bite.While extremely ¬†painful,the bite is rarely fatal to healthy humans.Most bites occur when the lizard is provoked by handling – No Touchy!!Just recently,scientists have been studying the venom as a possible treatment for Type 2 Diabetes- wow!

Myth:Once a Gila Monster bites,it will never let go,unless pried off or killed.

Fact:Gila’s do have a tenacious bite,however most last around 15 minutes,with the most serious bites occurring ¬†when the lower jaw locks.The down side-the¬†entire¬†time the animal is locked on ,it is secreting ¬†venom thru grooves in it’s teeth-Yeouch!!

Myth:Gila’s will leap at you! They will eat your children and pets!!

Fact:Gila’s prefer to take life sloooooowly,unless provoked,but will usually hiss and back away ,rather than attacking.They also much prefer small birds,other lizards,frogs ,insects and carrion to small children or Fido.


So,as much as the word “Monster”provokes unpleasant images of this creature,it is actually fairly passive and shy.If you do have an encounter,enjoy¬†from afar .If you still feel it to be a threat I.E in your yard,driveway,garage etc,or just don’t feel it is safe where it is located ,you can scoop him up with a box or other large item(we don’t recommend hands!) and move him to a safer area.Herpetologists ¬†do warn that if you move a Gila Monster less than 1,000 meters from the spot you found him,he will be back pretty much the next day.But,if you do move it further than that,it is likely to become lost or die.Gila monster’s are very much home bodies!Gila monsters are a threatened and protected species,and it illegal to take and keep as a pet.Harming a Gila is also a second class misdemeanor,and can cost you up to $750 in fines!So your best bet is to take pictures and memories ,and leave him be.

If you happen across a sick or injured Gila Monster,give us a call at 290-Wild(9453)

In Phoenix and surrounding areas-Phoenix Herpetological Society (480)513-4377


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For help and emergencies, please call our 24/7 helpline at (520) 290-9453.

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