Are Gila Monsters Truly Venomous?

The deserts of Arizona are home to many unique creatures, and one of the most interesting is the Gila monster, named after the Gila River Basin in that state. If you are a fan of 1950s science fiction movies, you may have seen the one about the giant version of this lizard. While they do not get that large, they do grow to a fair size and have the potential to be deadly.

In addition to Arizona, the Gila monster is found in other states in the southwestern United States including California, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah, and in Sonora, a state in northwestern Mexico. It is one of only two venomous lizards found in North America, with the other being the Mexican beaded lizard. Two subspecies exist: the reticulate and the banded Gila monsters. The former lives in the southern parts of their range, and the latter lives in the northern part -- particularly the Mojave Desert, which occupies parts of most of the states mentioned above.

This lizard will grow to around 2-feet long. As far as size and shape, it looks similar to a monitor lizard, a lizard that many exotic pet owners enjoy. Its front legs are strong and have tough claws for digging, and the tail is thick and stubby. The pink and black skin looks rugged and bumpy. Its jaws are sturdy and powerful, and they use them to crush prey to death. It has glands in the lower jaw that produce venom, and rather than inject it into the victim, it bites and allows the venom to flow along the teeth. By design, its teeth are easy to break off, and new teeth eventually grow back.

Are Gila Monsters Venomous?

You have probably heard that they are venomous, and that is the truth; however, they are not concerned about much, and the chances of being harmed by one are slim -- providing you are not messing around with it. They are sluggish as far as getting from place to place, but their bite is quick, and they will latch on to you and become difficult to remove.

Their venom is as deadly as that of a coral snake, which is one of the most toxic in North America. This lizard, though, cannot infuse much of it, so the bite is usually not deadly; however, the results can be painful and have undesirable side effects. Those effects include abnormal swelling, bulging of the eyes, hemorrhaging of internal organs, lethargy and weakness due to lowered blood pressure, and partial paralysis of the arms and legs.

You may have heard some of the fun, but false, trivia about these interesting creatures. One myth is that its breath is toxic and can kill a man. That may be true for your drunken neighbor, but not one of these. Another, believed by some Native Americans, is that has a spiritual ability to cause serious illness. Conversely, others believe the skin has healing properties.

Perhaps the most interesting myth is that it does not have an anus, so it has to vomit often. It therefore latches on to people and other creatures to do so, and the vomit is supposedly toxic. If that latter myth were true, it would certainly make a Gila monster cranky.

Article Source: Stephen Ayer

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