Gila monsters spend about 95 percent of their time underground and emerge only to hunt for food or to take a sunbath.
Gila monsters spend about 95 percent of their time underground and emerge only to hunt for food or to take a sunbath.
Photograph by Krzysztof Wiktor, Shutterstock

Gila Monster

The Gila monster is one of only a few poisonous lizards in the world.

Common Name:
Gila Monster
Scientific Name:
Heloderma suspectum
Type:
Reptiles
Diet:
Carnivore
Group Name:
Lounge
Average Life Span In The Wild:
Up to 20 years
Size:
20 inches
Weight:
4 pounds

The Gila (pronounced HEE-luh) is the largest lizard native to the United States. Their black bodies are covered in beadlike scales with bright spots, blotches, or bands of pink, orange, or yellow, which probably warn other animals to stay away.

Their bulky bodies, slow-moving stride, thick forked tongue, and snorting hisses reinforce the name Gila monster. They live in the dry, arid regions such as the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts of the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. They are named after the Arizona Gila River Basin, where they were first discovered.

Gila monsters are more likely to use their venom on a predator than on prey. They clamp their jaws down with the power of a vise grip. Then the venom in their bottom jaw flows through their grooved teeth into the victim. Although the Gila's bite is extremely painful, no human death has been reported. Gilas are sluggish creatures that feed primarily on eggs raided from bird nests and newborn mammals, such as rabbits and squirrels. They sometimes eat quail eggs whole without crushing the shells.

They spend about 95 percent of their time underground and emerge only to hunt for food or to take a sunbath. They don't need to eat very often because they can store fat in their large tails.