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Location and Habitat

Gila monsters are located in the southwestern United States. The states include California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. There are several deserts that span this region and these include the Mojave and Sonora. Gila monsters prefer rocky areas and tend to avoid large, open areas. In these rocky areas they will find burrows and spend large amounts of their life in them. Living in a burrow helps them avoid the extreme heat during the daytime and the cold at night.


Gila Monsters are opportunistic hunters and will eat a variety of foods. These foods can include lizards, small mammals such as mice and other rodents, small birds and eggs. They will also act as scavengers and dine on carrion at times.

Size and Description

Gila monsters can grow up to two feet in length. As noted, gilas will have a variety of colors, spots, blotches or bands depending on the sub-species of lizard. Gila monsters have short, thick tails which are used to store fat in the winter months during hibernation or other periods of time when it will need to go without food and water. Gilas also flick a forked tongue to detect the scents of other animals.


Gila monsters have several special adaptations that help it to survive in the harsh desert. The first is its coloration. There are several subspecies that have varying colors of blotches, spots or bands. These colors will either be yellow, pink or orange and may possibly serve as camouflage or as a warning to predators. The second adaptation of gila monsters are that they are poisonous. The venom of gila monsters help them to kill prey, and will also help them fend off potential predators as well.


Gila monsters are shy animals and will usually only bite humans if they feel threatened. Once they bite, they will not usually let go on their own and must be pulled off. The longer this takes, the more venom they will excrete into the bite. Bites can be serious and anyone who is bitten should seek medical care immediately.


Female gila monsters will lay a clutch of eggs (up to 12) in shallow nests under the ground. The nests are shallow so that the sun will be able to incubate them; the mother will not. The eggs will hatch in approximately 10 months.

Other Facts

Some tribes of Native Americans believe that gila monsters have mythical powers. These powers could include healing or causing sickness. Ironically, gila monsters' saliva contains the key ingredient in a drug used to help treat diabetes.

©Photographer: Rusty Dodson
    Kingdom: Phylum: Class: Order: Family: Genus: Species: Animalia Chordata Reptilia Squamata Helodermatidae Heloderma suspectum
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