Encountering a Gila Monster or Mexican Beaded Lizard – lizards protected by law

The exotic color pattern of the gila monster (pronounced – Hee la) is black with pinkish or yellow spots and bands.  Its unusual skin is beaded in appearance. Native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and 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 abundant.

pink and black stripes marks fat lizard
Gila Monster desert lizard

Towards late summer, gila monsters become active after thunderstorms. Although this lizard is venomous, it moves very slow and represents very little threat to us humans.  People often kill gila monsters due to fears; even though it is protected under Arizona state law.

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

 arizona slow lizard gila monster
pink and black lizard – gila monster

Do not worry or have fears; 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.

poisonous lizards venomous
gila monsters open mouth and hiss as a warning

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 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 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.

black striped large lizards - arizona
slow moving gila monster lizard

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 beaded gila monster
gila monster lizard face

The Gila monster eats primarily 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 with ready access to moisture.  Gila Monsters are solitary and live in desert and semidesert areas.  They are inactive much of the time.  When spring arrives, gila monsters begin to hunt again. During the summer the lizards only come out in the evening.

lizard looks like a dragon
gila monster beaded skin lizard

Breeding season for Gila monsters is usually 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 (up to 2 feet in length);  but has duller coloration with black and 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.  The beaded lizard is protected by Mexican law and it dwells within the range of several protected areas.

protected desert lizard species
Mexican Beaded Lizard

In 1952, the Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, 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. 

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