The Gila Monster

What is it?

Heloderma Suspectum is North America’s largest lizard at up to 40 centimetres and weighing over 2 kilograms. Residing in the vasts deserts of the Mojave down to northern Mexico. It has poor eyesight and relies on its extremely sensitive olfactory organs to find carrion, eggs and small animals to eat. They also have strikingly beautiful red, orange and black colouration.

What makes it so neat?

They are one of the few venomous lizards on earth, sharing the title with the legendary Komodo Dragon and monitor lizards. They also have a fearsome reputation, it was once believed by the Pioneers and Native American tribes that they spewed a toxic gas from their mouths to bring death upon their enemies and they could easily kill a man.

Fortunately the Gila Monster does not quite live up to the horror stories. It does produce a neurotoxin that rivals the diamond back rattlesnake in toxicity, but doesn’t produce enough of it to be fatal to a man. Furthermore it does not have fangs like a snake to inject its venom. Its method of envenomation is much simpler, it simply chews its way into the flesh of its victim and the venom is pushed via grooves in its teeth into the prey.

Whilst it will not kill you, you’ll still experience crippling agony

It has been suggested that its venom is defensive in nature, as it’s primary food source are eggs, carrion or small animals that are easily overpowered by its massive jaws. Therefore it never really needed potent venom. Its beautifully bright colouration serves as a warning to potential predators to keep away.

The Gila Monster is approaching threatened status due to habitat destruction and human encroachment in its regions.