Heloderma suspectum

Range: Southwestern United States andd northwestern Mexico

Habitat: Most common in the rockier, wetter desert scrub, but may also be found in drier, sandier areas. Prefer rocky foothills to open land or agricultural areas.

Conservation status: Near threatened: has been protected in Arizona, but more needs to be done to ensure that this incredible lizard remains a link in the wild food chain of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico.

Gila Monster

  • • Class: Reptilia; Order: Squamata; Family: Helodermatidae
    • One of only two venomous lizards in the world. The other is the Mexican beaded lizard that looks very much like the Gila monster but is found a little further south.
    • Moves very slowly, but eats all it can and stores the extra fat in its tail.
    • Venom glands are modified salivary glands located in the lower jaw and empty into the mouth. Gila monsters bite hard, leaving a wound 1/2 inch deep. The venom empties in a fleshy groove on the teeth, then into the wound. The jaws are like a vise grip and they hang on tight to let the venom flow into the wound. The Gila monster may even chew or tear the flesh to penetrate the poison further.
    • Forked tongue flicks to taste scent particles that were left, like a trail, on the ground.
    • Diet: small mammals, lizards, frogs, insects, carrion, birds and birds' eggs. They hunt primarily with their sense of taste and smell instead of with their eyes.
    • The element of surprise is their key to successful hunting. They grab their prey and subdue it with their jaws and teeth. Most of their prey is small enough to overcome without venom. It has been postulated that the venom is used more as a defense mechanism.
    • The venom is a neurotoxin -- attacks the nervous system and is strong enough to kill birds and mammals.
    • Three to 13 oval-shaped leathery eggs are buried about 5 inches below the surface of the ground. When the sun heats the sand, the warm sand heats the eggs. The vibrantly colored babies are about 4 inches in length at the time of hatching.
    • Gila monsters have lived up to 20 years in captivity
    • Solitary creatures that are inactive most of the time. Hide under rocks and in burrows. Sometimes they steal burrows from other animals but they can also dig their own.
    • Hibernates in winter, using the fat in its tail as sustenance.
    • In summer, active at twilight, thereby avoiding the heat of the day.

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