Encountering a Gila Monster – The gila monster’s close relative is the Mexican Beaded Lizard – lizards protected by law

Gila Monster was slowly crossing our southern Arizona driveway.  (Pronounced – Hee la)  The color pattern of the gila monster is black with orange, pink or yellow spots, blotches or bands.  Its skin is beaded in appearance.

Native to the southwest Sonoran Desert in Arizona and northwestern Mexico, the Gila Monster is a species of venomous lizards.  This lizard is named for the Gila River in Arizona where they used to be plentiful.   Late in the summer, such as August, gila monsters are active after thunderstorms.

Although the Gila monster is venomous, it moves very slow and represents very little threat to us humans.  People often kill these gila monster lizards due to fears; even though it is protected under Arizona, & Nevada state law.

Remain calm if you encounter a Gila monster.  If left alone the gila monster will move on.   Alert anyone in the vicinity and keep your pets away from the gila monster.   For questions or advice call your Game and Fish Department.

picture of gila monster

pink and black gila monster

Do not worry or have fears because the Gila monster tries hard to avoid humans and other large animals. To warn off potential predators, gila monster lizards will open their mouth very wide and hiss.

What to do if you are bitten by a gila monster?  —  A Gila monster bite is painful to humans but rarely causes death. The biggest problem you will have if a Gila monster bites you is trying to get the lizard to release its grip!  The bite is strong,  you may need to fully submerge the biting lizard in water to break free from the gila monster bite.  If there is no water, you can use a stick to pry the gila monster’s jaw open. Be careful after you have dislodged it.

gila monster

gila monster on a rock

Remain calm if bitten and get to a medical facility immediately.  Remove all jewelry from the bitten limb and keep it below heart level.  DO NOT use a constriction bandage or a tourniquet on a gila monster bite.

picture of gila monster

gila monster face

The Gila monster eats primarily bird and reptile eggs, frogs, insects and worms – feeding only five to ten times a year in the wild. They have poor eyesight but an extremely acute sense of smell which they use to locate prey. The sense of smell of the gila monster is so keen that it can accurately follow a trail made by a rolling egg.

They live in burrows, thickets, and under rocks in locations with ready access to moisture. 

Gila Monsters are solitary and live in desert and semidesert areas with just enough moisture to support a few shrubs.  They are inactive much of the time.  When springtime comes, gila monsters begin to hunt again. During the summer, the lizards only come out in the evening.   

Breeding season for Gila monsters is usually in early summer. The female digs a hole, lays a clutch of oval-shaped eggs. Four months later, the baby Gila monsters break out of their eggs and crawl to the surface.

The Gila monster may live up to 20 years in the wild, or 30 in captivity.

This heavy, slow-moving gila monster, is the only venomous lizard native to the United States and one of only two known species of venomous lizards in the world, the other being its close relative, the Mexican Beaded Lizard.

mexican beaded lizard

mexican beaded lizard

The beaded lizard is larger, 2-3 feet in length, than the Gila monster, gets up to 2 feet in length,  but has duller coloration, black with yellowish bands.  The Mexican beaded lizard’s venom contains enzymes used in manufacturing drugs to treat diabetes. Once again people kill these lizards because of fears and superstitions.   As a direct result, the beaded lizard is protected by Mexican law under the category A (Threatened), and it dwells within the range of several protected areas.

In 1952, the Gila monster became the first venomous animal in North America to be given legal protection;  it is illegal to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect the Gila Monster.  Gila monsters are listed as Near Threatened.