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Sedgwick County Zoo, credit: John Streeter

Gila Monster

Heloderma suspectum suspectum

Physical Characteristics

  • One of only two types of poisonous lizards, Gila monsters are pink with yellow and black shading. There are 4 - 5 dark bands on the tail. The stout body has a large, blunt head with a powerful lower jaw, an unusually thick tail, short legs and strong claws. There are venom glands in the lower jaw.
  • Size of average adult
    • length: 23 inches
    • weight: 3 pounds
  • Approximate life span is 20 years.


  • Wild: bird eggs, reptile eggs, baby birds, baby mice and baby rats


  • Move about slowly
  • Active mainly at night
  • Track down prey by using tongue to pick up scent particles on the sand
  • When active eat all they can and store surplus as fat in tail
  • Can survive for months without food, living off fat in tail
  • Stays in burrow during winter months
  • Reproduction
    • breeding season: July
    • eggs laid few weeks later in a hole dug by female and covered with sand
    • clutch size: 3 - 15 oval. leathery eggs
    • incubation: 28 - 30 days
    • young are 3.5 - 4.5 inches long and reach adult size in 1 - 3 years


  • Habitat: desert
  • Distribution: southwestern United States
  • Numbers: 357 in captivity (1990)
  • Status: CITES Appendix II
    • pet trade, magical and mythical powers are associated with the animals
    • habitat destruction: overgrazing, truck farming, planting of cotton

Conservation Efforts

  • Protection by Arizona State Law

Suggested Readings

  • The Gila Monster and It's Allies, Bogert and Martin de Campo's

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