Creature Feature - Gila Monster

Published: Aug. 12, 2004 at 3:10 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 20, 2009 at 3:19 PM MST
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Posted 08/11/04

A campy horror classic from 1959 turned a three pound lizard into a giant teenage-eating, train-wrecking monster that terrorizes a small Texas community.   About the only thing this Hollywood movie got right was its speed.

Herpetologist Stephane Poulin with the Arizona Sonora Desert says, "The top speeds about a mile, mile and a half an hour so you can definitely walk yourself out of any situation with a Gila monster."

The venomous Gila monster is not considered life-threatening to humans but it's bite is extremely painful.

"They have 40 teeth which are very sharp and curved which allow them to have a very good grip." says Poulin.

And most people experience that grip not on themselves but on their pets.  In fact some dogs have gone to the vet with Gila monsters still attached.

Domestic pets are not a part of the Gila Monsters' diet.  They eat mainly quail eggs and lots of them.

Poulin says, "A Gila monster can eat about one-third of its body weight in one meal, so this animal can eat too much food for what it needs at the moment, so all the extra energy gets stored in the tail."

The Gila monster is sometimes confused with the more venomous Mexican Beaded Lizard, only from the southern tip of Sonora south to Central America.

The Gila monster is protected in Arizona.  It's a rare sight to see one so Stephane says keep your distance and enjoy the experience.

Poulin says, "Just let them be part of the environment and just enjoy your encounter with them and that's a very great situation."