The Gila monster is a small, venomous lizard that only lives in the United States and Mexico. It can grow to about 2 feet long, but it’s got longer fangs than a rattlesnake. It is considered a threatened species in some states and is protected by law. Although it looks ferocious, it isn’t aggressive unless provoked. Moreover, the gila monster is a slow-moving, shy creature that has never been known to bite humans. In fact, they are so gentle they will allow visitors to pet them. People may think that gila monsters are closely related to the monitor lizards of the Eastern Hemisphere. Although the Gila monster looks to be closely related to Africa’s, Asia’s, and Australia’s monitor lizards, their geographical separation and distinctive traits not found in the varanids indicate that gila monster belongs in its own family.
Furthermore, this humble animal is quite common in the desert, but you may find it difficult to see the gila monsters. This is because they spend most of their time underground. In case you are curious about this unique and shy animal, then you come to the right place! We have compiled some gila monster facts to broaden your knowledge. Without any further ado, let’s dive in!
1. The Largest Lizard In The US
The venomous Gila monster is the largest lizard native to the United States, growing up to two feet long and weighing up to five pounds. Gilas are found in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan deserts of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. On May 14, 1881, the largest Gila monster was discovered in Arizona. It was 27 inches long and weighed 35 pounds. They are easily recognizable by their black bodies with spectacular patterns of pink, orange, or yellow.
Compared to Komodo dragons, Gila monsters are far smaller than the world’s largest lizard species. The size, venom, and habitats of Gila monsters and Komodo dragons are the key differences. Although Gila monsters are the largest lizard in the United States, Komodo dragons are notably larger.
2. The Name Resembles Its First Discovered Place
The Gila monster can be found mostly in Arizona and Mexico, as well as in the extreme southeast corner of California, the southern tip of Nevada, and the southwestern corners of Utah and New Mexico. In fact, the Gila River in Arizona is a place where lizards are plentiful. Later, gila monsters get their name from the Gila River Basin in Arizona, where they were initially discovered.
The lizard was given the name suspectum because paleontologist E.D. Cope, who named it in 1869, initially thought it was venomous. It took another half-century for the evidence to be confirmed.
3. Gilas Monster Prefers Rocky Hills Than Flat Areas
Gila monsters are desert creatures that live near washes and arroyos, as well as semi-arid rocky desert scrub or grasslands. Gila monsters also appear to prefer rocky hillsides over broad plains and agricultural regions. They can dwell at altitudes as high as 5,000 feet. The lizards can change their behavior in response to changes in temperature.
Furthermore, gila monsters are lonely creatures that dwell in deserts and semi-deserts where there is just enough moisture to maintain a few bushes. Because they avoid open regions, Gila monster burrows are usually found in rocky slopes.
4. It is Part of Venomous Lizards
The Gila monster is one of only a few venomous lizards, which also includes the Mexican beaded lizard, the Komodo dragon, and a few Australian species. It has the ability to bite swiftly and hold on for a long time. Gilas have larger, grooved teeth in their lower jaw that inject poison rather than hollow fangs like deadly snakes.
When they bite, the venom is absorbed through capillary action along the grooves in these teeth by their powerful jaws. A Gila bite, on the other hand, only injects a minimal amount of venom. The venom contains exendin-3 and exendin-4, two peptides that may help Gila monsters immobilize prey. This painful bite can cause localized swelling, nausea, and fever. Fortunately, there is no death case caused by the Gila monster ever recorded.
5. Sluggish Reptile with Only 1 Miles Per Hour Top Speed
A Gila monster can run at a top speed of 1-1.5 miles per hour. This is an extremely sluggish speed for a land reptile. Their walking speed, on the other hand, is substantially slower. Therefore, you don’t have to worry if this animal will run after you.
Because Gila monsters are slow-moving animals, they use their tongues to “smell” prey before sneaking up on it. Moreover, these lizards have formidable jaws, causing victims unable to simply flee once they’ve been bitten. Gila monsters consume their food intact, but they will bite down on eggs to crack them open.
6. Gila Monster Can Live Up To 36 Years
A Gila monster can survive for 20 years or more in the wild. Meanwhile gila monsters have been reported to survive up to 36 years with human care in Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Although considered as sluggish animals, gila monsters may store more energy than lesser lizards because of their huge size.
The energy is stored in both the fat tails and the massive bodies of Gila monsters. They also have a modest metabolic rate, so they don’t have to look for food as often. And for that reason, they can have a long lifespan.
7. Gilas Eat Up To One Third of Their Body Weight in One Meal
Gila monsters are carnivores, that means they eat meat. Gila monsters are known for raiding nests in search of little birds and eggs. Small mammals, lizards, frogs, insects, and carrion are also caught.
They have the ability to consume up to one-third of their body weight in a single meal. These creatures don’t even chew their food and can swallow whole little eggs. As a result, this animal can eat more food than it requires at the time, and the excess energy is stored in the tail.
8. Enough Calories for A Year after 4 Meals
Gilas are said to be able to consume all of the calories they require for a year in three or four enormous meals. They may store more energy due to their larger size than lesser lizards. Fat is stored in both their tails and bodies.
Their low metabolic rates and propensity to eat huge meals, along with their fat storage capacity, eliminate the need for frequent food searches. As a result, Gila monsters prefer to remain underground.
9. Gila Monsters Love Hiding Underground
Gila monsters are usually active throughout the day, but are most active in the morning. However, gila monsters live for 98 percent of their life underground. In the three months of spring, they spend the majority of their time above ground.
Furthermore, Gila monsters hibernate throughout the winter to avoid the cold. They spend the middle of the day underground in the summer to avoid the scorching light. Gila monsters’ habit can trace their ancestry all the way back to the Cretaceous Period.
10. Soliter Animals which Gather Only for Mating
Gila monsters are normally solitary creatures, but in the spring, they congregate in common areas to breed. In fact, gila monsters have a one-square-mile home range. Gila monsters mate in the spring, when the food supply is at its peak. Courtship and male-to-male combat take place from late April until early June.
Later, females lay two to twelve leathery eggs, which spend the winter below ground and hatch 120 to 150 days later in the spring. Hatchlings are roughly 6 inches long and resemble their parents in size. In addition, hatchlings are immediately independent.
11. Gila Monsters Climb to Monitor Predators and Cool Off Temperature
Although gila monsters are famous as sluggish animals who love to stay underground, they have long claws which make climbing easy. It’s quite rare to see a Gila monster climb a tree, but they do climb sometimes.
The majority of the times they’ve been seen climbing, they’ve been attempting to flee potential predators such as humans. There was also one observation of a Gila climbing up to a low tree branch to cool off because the ground was so hot.
12. Bright and Dark Skin Pattern as Warning Coloration
Although Gila monsters cannot alter their color during their lifetimes, generations of populations have done so in order to better adapt and blend in with their surroundings. The orange and black color is typically the first thing you notice in Gila monsters. Those colors helped them blend against the desert scenery when they were far away, making them harder to spot. However, up close, their colors serve as a warning to predators, informing them that they are poisonous and capable of self-defense.
Bright and dark hues, particularly in stripes or repetitive patterns, can be used as warning coloration. Some scientists believe that juveniles’ colors are brighter and have a more striped pattern to serve as a stronger alert to predators. If the predators do not listen, they may be bitten by an adult or a baby Gila monster, resulting in a painful bite.
13. Gila Monsters Can Survive 32 Days Without Water
In the arid southwest, where water can be limited for months at a time, the deadly Gila monster lives. Have you ever thought about how their strategy is surviving the drought? According to the experts, the only way for a Gila monster to survive months of drought is to drink as much as they can whenever they come across water and store the liquid in their bladders. The reptiles can survive for a while once their hidden supply runs out, but they’ll eventually have to wait for the rains to return.
According to research, gila monsters in the lab have been found to be able to endure 81 days without a full bladder before becoming lethargic. Meanwhile, they can only last about 32 days if their bladder is empty. That 81-day period corresponds to the period in the Sonoran Desert between the spring rains and the summer monsoon.
14. Long Claws and Strong Teeth to Get Food
Gila monsters, as carnivores, have a variety of dietary sources. Gila monsters have lengthy claws that they employ to dig for food, such as buried eggs, or to alter burrows. They don’t even dig their own burrows. Furthermore, by picking up scents in the air, its tongue aids it in hunting and receiving information about its surroundings.
Furthermore, they have a powerful bite that can be uncomfortable for people and fatal for animals. Gila monsters can stay alive for several minutes, perhaps even 10, and even chew up their venom. Venom seeps into bite wounds as they seize their prey with their jaws. Its venom targets their prey’s neurological system.
15. The Hissing Sound When Feels Threatened
When a Gila monster feels threatened, it only creates sound by hissing at other animals. The poison of a Gila monster is prepared to be a defensive weapon. Gila monster will hiss, gape, and back away from its would-be attacker before biting. If these attempts fail, it will strike with ferocity.
To ward off enemies, a Gila monster will open its mouth and make a hissing sound. The Gila monster injects venom into its prey using its grooved teeth. It has a powerful bite and may hold on to its victim for a long period, sometimes even biting deeper into the skin before releasing it.