Gila Monster

Range:
Extreme southwestern Utah, southern Nevada and adjacent San Bernadino County, CA., southeastward through west and south Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.

Habitat:
Arid areas consisting of scattered cacti, shrubs, mesquite and grasses.

Distinguishing Characteristics:
They can be up to 22” long and are stout with short fat tails and have beaded yellow, pink, and black scales.

Diet in Zoo: Crickets and mice.
Diet in Wild: Small mammals, birds, lizards, and especially the eggs of birds, lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises.

Behavior/Adaptations:

  • Gila monsters are one of only two venomous lizards in the world (the other being the Mexican beaded lizard), and the venom is comparable to that of an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. Although slow, they are aggressive and hold on tenaciously when they bite.
  • Gila Monsters store fat in their tails during lean times – some Gila monsters have been documented as only feeding three times in a year. As a result, they rarely have to forage for food and spend over 95% of their lifespan underground, often in a burrow dug out under a rock.
  • They are solitary animals but gather in communal areas in spring to mate.
  • Have lived up to 20 years in captivity.
  • Gila monsters have no known natural predators!
  • A component of Gila monster venom called exendin-4 was recently investigated for its in treating type-2 diabetes. This peptide stimulates the secretion of insulin in the presence of elevated blood glucose levels. It also has the effect of slowing gastric emptying. Phase I clinical studies have recently begun with this exciting experimental drug.

Status:
Listed as Threatened under the United States Endangered Species Act and under CITES II (02/10), due mainly to development in its habitat and roadkill during the mating season, however recent surveys show some populations increasing.