Gila Monster

Hiking around the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains this morning, I experienced a real treat: my first wild Gila Monster. I was walking around, looking for bugs, when I heard scratching sounds coming from a bush to my right. I looked down, and saw a Gila Monster walking towards me. I stood still to let it pass, but it saw me and turned right around.

1-Gila Walking

As he walked away, I snapped this photo. Not the highest quality, I admit, but I was hardly going to leave it at one shot.

The Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum) is the largest lizard native to the United States. It can grow up to two feet long and weigh as much as five pounds! This one was much shorter at a bit over a foot long, but still an impressive animal.

Gila monsters are protected in Arizona, so I wanted to be careful not to disturb it. Instead, I decided to wait for it to settle down somewhere and then take pictures. Unfortunately for me, it crawled into the densest thorny brush around and settled there.

5-Gila Brush

On hand and knees, I made my way closer so that I could take my picture. This was a bit nerve-wracking as I had to beware of snakes and scorpions, both of which are also abundant here. This meant that I had to check every nook and cranny before putting my hand down. In the end, I took about ten minutes to get to a position where I felt that I could take my picture.

I didn’t want to get too close, again because the Gila Monster is protected, but also because they are well-known for their venomous bite. One of only two lizards with medically significant venom (the other is the closely related Mexican Beaded Lizard), people are often afraid of these animals. The truth is, they are slow and non-aggressive. At most, they can only walk as fast as 2 miles per hour, much slower than us. They can, however, swing around very quickly and bite if you try to handle them.

2-Gila Hiding

The venom is purely defensive, since the Gila monster eats mostly newborn rodents and bird eggs. It causes intense pain, and can result in a drop in blood pressure, but fatalities are almost unheard of. Regardless, I wanted to be careful so I kept several feet of distance between myself and the animal.

And here is the shot that made it all worth it:

4-Gila Head Small

~The Homesteading Hippy

7 thoughts on “Gila Monster

  1. cecilia

    wow, what a magnificent find, and what dangerous territory for a wander in the morning, snakes, scorpions and Monsters! Do you keep medications in your pack in case of a bite? c

    1. The Homesteading Hippy Post author

      The only first aid for snakebites here is to get to a hospital for IV antivenom. Other methods, such as tourniquets or suction have since been demonstrated to do more harm than good. For scorpions, Ibuprofen or Paracetamol is really all you need. I just try to be careful not to put any part of my body anywhere I haven’t looked first.
      ~The Homesteading Hippy

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  3. Jordan Barker

    I love these lizards! In middle school I started writing a book in which every main character had a familiar. The character that was based on myself had a Gila monster as her familiar. …I never actually finished the book.
    Also I’m very happy to see that you aren’t taking any risks when it comes to venom these days. We don’t want another incident like the catfish one, eh Fishy? =)


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