The Gila Monster Is The Star of Your Nightmares

This Desert Lizard's Specialized Sensory Organs Make It a Fierce Predator

by Andreanna Wright, age 12

With shield-like scales, muscular jaws, and razor- sharp teeth, the Gila monster is a predator with an agonizing bite.

With bone-crushing jaws, the Gila lizard is called a monster for a reason; from the perspective of its prey it looks as fearsome as a dinosaur would be to humans. It weighs up to 12 pounds and grows 16-22 inches long.

Because the Gila monster mainly eats meat, its hunting skills are very important. This frightening beast feasts on eggs, small lizards and young mammals. Most animals rely on their eyes and nose for hunting, but the Gila monster uses its other senses to make up for its weak eyes.

To locate a likely meal, for instance, its tongue transfers samples of air to a special sensory organ on the roof of its mouth. Then, like a snake, it tastes the air repeatedly with its tongue and with one mighty bite, the Gila monster snaps bones. A sack full of venom flows up through its teeth and drowns the wound with a poison that incapacitates its victim. The Gila monster then gobbles up its feast.

The Gila monster’s scales are like a protective layer on its body, reducing moisture loss in the dry desert air. When food gets scarce, the Gila monster can survive up to three years with the fat stored in its tail. Its legs are stocky and short with claws that shear open prey.

The Gila monster’s name comes from the Gila River in the dry parts of southwestern Arizona. It lives in parts of New Mexico, California, Nevada and Utah.

The Gila monster can live for 20 years in the wild and 40 years in captivity. Previously sold as an exotic pet, the Gila monster is now protected under laws dedicated to preserving this monster’s place in the world.

[Source: Snakes and Reptiles]