The Gila monster’s teeth are rather loosely anchored and are replaced throughout the life of this reptile. Gila monster venom is used primarily as a defense mechanism. Venom glands in the lower jaw activate during the biting process. This pushes venom through ducts which terminate along grooved bottom teeth. Capillary action then wicks the venom into the wound. Gila monster bites result in immediate pain which becomes more severe quickly. Its venom is not fatal to a healthy adult human, but is a great deterrent to a would-be predator. The venom of the Gila monster has been studied and used within human medicines such as a diabetes 2 drug and as an aid for conditions such as memory loss from Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and ADHD.
Habitat: Southwestern United States into northwestern Mexico, preferring scrubland, succulent desert, oak woodlands with access to water. Avoids open areas.
Diet in the wild: Primary diet is bird and reptile eggs, but will eat small birds and mammals, frogs, lizards, insects and even carrion. May only eat 5-10 times each year, but can eat 1/3 of its body weight at one time.
Diet at Caldwell Zoo: Mice and bird eggs.
Size: 20-22 inches long; ¾-1½ pounds. Largest lizard native to North America.
Family: 2-12 eggs are laid in July-August and buried in sand. After an incubation of about 9 months, 6 inch long youngsters hatch. At hatching, these little ones have venom to defend themselves.
Status: Near Threatened with numbers decreasing. The Gila monster is protected in Arizona.
Did you know? The Gila monster is somewhat sluggish which makes it little threat to humans. In addition, this lizard spends about 95% of its time underground, emerging to either soak up some sun or forage for its next meal.