“Gila” Up

December 18, 2012


The Gila Monster is one of several creatures that are commonly found in the spring and summer months around the Ranch’s 600 acres of Sonora desert. However, they are seen on rare occasions, as they spend 95% of their life underground. They are a big, stout, venomous lizard, with a black forked tongue and distinctive bead-like skin. Their legs are short and feet are comparable to small human hands with claws.

The Gila Monster is one of only two venomous lizard on the planet. It’s venomous cousin, the Mexican Beaded Lizard, is slightly larger and darker and lives in Northwest Sonora Mexico. While they are non-aggressive, they are known to hiss and bite if they feel threatened. As a neurotoxin, it is not fatal, but will definitely ruin your day.

During the warm weather months, the Gila Monster feeds at night. It is both nocturnal and diurnal, foraging during the day when the weather is cooler. The Gila Monster prefers to eat small mammals, baby birds and the eggs of reptiles and birds. Fat stored in the tail is used to sustain them during the winter months.

They live in deserts, semi-arid habitats of sandy, rocky and gravelly terrain in the Western and Southwestern United States. When they are not out and about, they are found in burrows of other animals and in holes that they dig with their claws.

Some tribes of Native Americans have believed the Gila Monster to have mythical powers, which could include healing or causing sickness. Interesting enough, Gila Monsters’ saliva contains the key ingredient in a drug used to help treat diseases such as diabetes.

It’s a rare treat to see a Gila Monster, as they are not only very secretive and shy, but are currently protected under Arizona Law as a threatened species.  So make sure to bring your camera when you go on a hike or stop by the Tanque Verde Ranch Nature Center where our Naturalists will give you more information about the Gila Monster.


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