Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Gila Monster - Baby

Gila Monsters are venomous lizards -- the only venomous lizard in the United States. They typically grow to about 20 - 22 inches long and a little over a pound in weight. Their conservation status is "Near Threatened" and protected by law in Arizona. It is illegal to kill, capture, or disturb Gila Monsters.

They spend most of their life underground, only coming out of their burrows to eat and mate. Mating usually occurs in April and May. The female lays eggs in July or August with a nine month incubation period. So hatchlings emerge in the April - June timeframe. Hatchlings are about 6-7 inches long when they emerge.

And such it was with the little guy that crawled by my office last week:

Gila Monster Hatchling
We know Gila Monsters live on our property although we don't see them every year. But, this little guy obviously was born on our property. (Those are pomegranate flowers on the ground next to the lizard).

Guests had reported seeing an adult Gila Monster the day before over by our Catalina Guest House, which is where we usually see them.

Now a word about the danger of being bitten. Although the venom is as toxic as a coral snake,  the Gila Monster only produces a small amount. Unlike rattlesnakes that have fangs and inject its venom into prey, the Gila Monster's venom is produced by glands in the upper jaw and transferred to the prey by chewing.

There have been no deaths resulting from Gila Monster bites since 1939. Prior to 1939 there are accounts of Gila Monster "attacks" many of which seem greatly exaggerated: In the Tombstone Epitaph  on May 14, 1881 (the year of the Gunfight at the OK Corral) it was reported that a 27 inch "35 pound" Gila Monster was caught by H.C. Hait. 

In another account:

"On May 8, 1890, Empire Ranch owner Walter Vail captured and thought he had killed a Gila monster. He tied it to his saddle and it bit the middle finger of his right hand and wouldn't let go. A ranch hand pried open the lizard's mouth with a pocketknife, cut open his finger to stimulate bleeding, and then tied saddle strings around his finger and wrist. They summoned Dr. John C. Handy of Tucson, who took Vail back to Tucson for treatment, but Vail experienced swollen and bleeding glands in his throat for sometime afterward."

Wild West Magazine published an article three years ago about Hollywood's fascination with Gila Monsters in "Godzilla type" movies.  In one movie there was a poster with a Gila Monster the size of a school bus. (As a reality check, the article included one of my Gila Monster photos).

Gila Monsters are very slow moving. The don't strike like a rattlesnake, i.e. can't jump 4 - 6 feet. You would pretty much have to pick one up and stick your finger in it's mouth, but nonetheless caution is the rule of the day when -- if -- you see one.

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