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Gila Monster

Gila Monster Heloderma suspectum. Gila Monsters are one of only two venomous lizards in the world!

They produce venom in glands of the lower jaw and channel it along grooves in the teeth for secretion. Once a Gila monster bites, it generally holds on tight, chewing more and more venom into the bite.

Gila monster

When they are above ground, they tend to move rather slowly and will first try to escape if a predator comes near. They will also hiss and open their mouths very wide this behavior is called gaping , showing off their pointy teeth. And though a Gila bite is extremely painful, none has resulted in a reported human death. Unlike snakes, which inject venom, Gilas latch onto victims and chew to allow neurotoxins to move through grooves in their teeth and into the open wound.

Size and description

Gilas are lethargic creatures that feed primarily on eggs raided from nests and newborn mammals. They may spend more than 95 percent of their lives in underground burrows, emerging only to feed and occasionally to bask in the desert sun. They can store fat in their oversized tails and are able to go months between meals.


Gila populations are shrinking due primarily to human encroachment, and they are considered a threatened species. In their dens they can avoid extremely high and low temperatures. They emerge when temperatures above ground are more moderate -- daytime in the spring, and nighttime in the summer. They may also come out on overcast summer days, or warm winter days. These are the times they're most active. They're least active during the coldest part of winter, when they come out of their burrows only to bask in the sun.

Gila Monster, Baby Beaver & Pixie Frog w/ Jack Hanna

Though two or more adults may share a burrow, Gila monsters spend most of their active time alone. Though state and local laws protect these lizards, the animals still face two big problems -- habitat loss due to urban development and agriculture, and illegal collection for use as pets. You can help by not buying a Gila monster, and by spreading the word about these threatened animals.

Saint Louis Zoo. Banded Gila Monster.

Foothills Palo Verde Fact Sheet

Beaded Body Gila monsters are a type of beaded lizard, so called because of the bead-like scales covering their head and back. What's for Dinner? Making Monster Babies Late spring is mating time for Gila monsters. Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold Gila monsters spend much of their time in underground dens -- usually rocky crevices in the ground or abandoned mammal burrows.