Gila Monster Fact Sheet

The Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum) is a unique venomous lizard only found in southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. Gila monsters’ habitat is limited to the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan deserts. These monster lizards have bright yellow, orange, or pink and black markings along their bead-like scales. They are one of two venomous lizards found in Northern America. Unlike snakes, which inject venom, Gila monster venom is secreted and distributed when it bites down with its teeth and begins a chewing motion thus injecting neurotoxic venom into the wound. As you can imagine these bites are extremely painful to humans, but there has never been a reported human death attributed to Gila monster poison.  

Nevada Gila monsters are well adapted to the harsh environment of the Mojave. Among many interesting facts about Gila monsters is that they spend up to 95% of their time in underground burrows. They can survive months between meals by storing fat in their robust tails. Gila monsters in Nevada leave their burrows only to feed and occasionally to bask in the sun. They are master scavengers and can subsist on a diet consisting primarily of eggs stolen from nests, newborn mammals, carrion, frogs, and insects that reside in Gila monster habitat. They hunt through their sense of taste and smell. Using powerful jaws and biting motion they release a powerful neurotoxin into their prey’s bloodstream that disrupts the nervous system. Gila monster venom does not just help these monster lizards hunt, it also aids them in defending themselves when disturbed by humans or predators. 

Gila monsters have very few natural predators. Destruction of Gila monster habitat is the largest threat to this fascinating species of monster lizards. The Gila monster is considered near-threatened according to the Endangered Species Act.