Thursday, September 15, 2011

It's a Monster! A Gila Monster

With a name like the Gila monster, this is one lizard you would expect to be fearsome, and in some respects you would be right. For one, the Gila monster is the largest land lizard in the United States and can reach lengths of up to two feet. It’s also one of only a handful of venomous lizards in the world.
Although the Gila monster might look and sound scary, it’s really not all that dangerous. Named for the Gila River basin in Arizona where they were first discovered, these lizards spend the majority of their lives underground in abandoned mammal burrows. They only emerge sporadically to feed and can survive on as little as five meals per year. The Gila monster mainly eats eggs and small mammals, secreting venom through its teeth while chewing to stun its prey.
Despite their venom and large size, Gila monsters pose almost no threat to humans. On the rare occasions that they are above ground they are extremely slow-moving. Bites can be painful, but rarely occur unprovoked. Gila monster venom is powerful, but is produced in much smaller amounts than snake venom; it is rarely fatal to humans.

Their fearsome size and venomous reputation has led to many Gila monsters being unnecessarily killed. This, combined with loss of habitat due to urban sprawl has led to the Gila monster becoming a species on the cusp of being endangered.

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