Can you answer these gila monster questions?
Grab your best stuffed animal friend and a notebook to use for this week’s activities–your safari field journal–and let’s get started! If you need help answering some questions, an adult can help you look for answers online.
- Where do gila monsters mainly live?
- What does this habitat look like? Draw it in your safari field journal!
- Could your stuffed animal friend live in this kind of habitat? Why or why not?
- What is one special adaptation gila monsters have to help them survive in their habitat?
- What do gila monsters eat? Are they carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?
- Are gila monsters endangered, vulnerable, or something else? What does this mean for future populations?
Gila monsters were one of the first venomous lizards discovered, and the first found within the United States! Found in Arizona, New Mexico, and the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahan deserts of Mexico, gila monsters prefer dry, desert habitats. They’re also burrowers, which means they dig underground holes to live in to help them stay out of the sun on super-hot days.
A full grown gila monster is a little under two feet long. They have stout, flat bodies with bright orange stripes to warn would-be predators of their venom. Unlike snakes, a gila monster doesn’t use fangs to inject venom into their prey. Instead, venom flows into the wound created by the bite. Gila monsters’ venom is an important adaptation that helps paralyze prey like small birds, mammals, smaller lizards, and insects. However, they usually prefer to eat “helpless” prey like eggs and carrion.
Like all reptiles, gila monsters are ectothermic, which means they receive heat from external sources such as the sun, sand, and the hot rocks they live on. And because their bodies aren’t using energy to keep their bodies warm like birds and mammals, gila monsters in their natural habitat don’t need to eat too much in order to stay alive. A gila monster, when observed in the wild, only needs to eat five to ten times per year. Imagine if you only needed to eat a few times a year!
Since gila monsters prefer prey that doesn’t move, scientists believe they mainly use their venom to stay safe! In the wild, gila monsters need to worry about predators like coyotes and raptors, birds of prey. However, the biggest threat to gila monsters are people. Since these reptiles are large and venomous, a lot of myths began circulating around pioneers settling in the American North West, including the myth that gila monsters possessed a deadly, noxious breath and that their bites were fatal! Today, we know this isn’t true, but in the past, people feared gila monsters and hunted them to the point that they were once endangered; however, strict laws in states like Arizona have helped them recover, and they are now considered “Near Threatened.”
On the rare occasion that a gila monster does bite a human, its venom can cause paralysis, make it difficult to breath, and cause convulsions. But a gila monster bite is rarely fatal to people! Despite being called “monsters,” these lizards don’t often attack people. This is because they’re sluggish and react slowly. However, like any wild animal, gila monsters are best left alone and should be appreciated from a safe distance.