For the first time in what I’d wager is over half a year, it’s raining where I live. That means it’s obviously time to share some facts about … Gila monsters! Yeah, I’m not drawing much inspiration from the weather but I do want to share some interesting information about these unique lizards.
1. Gila monsters are not fast runners but they do have high endurance and have excellent aerobic capacity for a lizard.
2. Part of why they need this aerobic ability is for combat during mating season. Males wrestle each other for the attention of females and this requires a lot of effort. On average, males have better endurance while running than females.
3. While Gila monsters don’t eat often (because they can live off of fat stored in their tails), they do eat a lot. During one meal, they can eat up to a third of their total body weight. They are carnivores, eating small amphibians, mammals, and birds.
4. The Gila monster is the largest native lizard in the United States. Some Gila monsters may grow up to sizes of almost two feet long from snout to tip of the tail.
5. It used to be believed that a Gila monster had poisonous breath and you would die if one breathed on you. Another myth was that they could jump up in the air and spit venom. Obviously, neither of these myths are true, but it’s fun to imagine an animal so poisonous that you can’t even get close enough for them to breathe on you.
6. Despite living in the desert, the Gila monster prefers to live in spots with some moisture, whether under rocks or in burrows. After rainfall, they can sometimes be found sitting in puddles.
7. Gila monsters rarely bite humans and only do so under extreme provocation. One late-nineteenth-century doctor wrote that “a man who is fool enough to get bitten by a Gila monster ought to die”. Well, I wouldn’t go that far but Gila monsters aren’t aggressive and they only attack out of self-defense.
8. In fact, Gila monster venom is usually not fatal to adults at all. While the strength is about that of a rattlesnake, they produce less than a snake per bite. The Gila monster’s venom will just cause swelling and pain.
9. Juvenile Gila monsters have more pink scales than adults, and a more defined band pattern. Some Gila monsters retain this banded pattern as they get older, though.
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