Petiles Spotlight: The Gila Monster

If you live in the Southwestern United States, there’s a chance you have seen the Gila Monster. With their bulldog like jaw and striking color contrast, this species is one of a kind. They’re a misunderstood species that’s often killed by people who are afraid of them. Gila Monsters have a bad reputation and that’s all most people know about them. Let’s dispel some of this misinformation.

Scientific Information


Gila Monster Drawing
The Gila Monster, or Heloderma suspectum, is a lizard native to the southwestern United States and small portion of northern Mexico. What makes this species one of a kind is the fact it is the only venomous lizard native to the US. There is another venomous species that came from Mexico, but they are not native here.

Physical Appearance


Gila Monster Full Body
These guys are the largest extant lizard from the US with lengths of 20 to 22 inches. Coloring for this species is striking, with many of them having mostly black bodies accented by a bright pink. They are stocky, have a short tail, and a big head. As you can see in the picture above, instead of typical scales, they have round, bony scales. It makes their skin look sort of beaded.


Primarily, this species feeds on reptile and bird eggs. In addition to eggs, Gila Monsters will also eat small birds, reptiles, mammals, and carrion. One neat thing about this species is that they only eat around 5 to 10 times in a year in the wild. Also, their sense of smell is so keen that they are able to find chicken eggs that have been buried six inches underground.



Gila Monster Open Mouth

Image from Tucson Wildlife

I’m sure we’ve all heard of coral snakes before and how dangerous they are. The Gila Monster produces a neurotoxin that is as toxic as a Coral Snake. However, the amount that a Gila Monster produces is very small. So, despite having a dangerous venom, their bite will more than likely not kill a healthy adult. A Gila Monster bite death has not been reported since 1939.

As a Pet?

Baby Gila Monsters
Yes, you read that right. It is possible to keep a Gila Monster as a pet! (Assuming you live in a state where it is legal.) It’s also only legal to purchase Captive Bred Gilas. They need a cage that is at least 4 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet. It’s easy to become lulled into thinking that your Gila is “tame,” but you always have to be on your guard. When they bite its very fast and they don’t let go. Sometimes you have to completely submerge the Gila underwater before it will release you. This species can make a wonderful and interesting pet, just don’t handle unless required.

Have any questions about the Gila Monster? Ask me below!

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