Gila Monster – Shelter First, Adventure Later
Shelter first, adventure later. Respect your cycles. Thunderstorm magic. Sniffing out the truth. Taking time to find the best places. Homebody. Rest as you must. Waiting for the right time. Stubbornness. Strength. Inner fortitude. Firm boundaries. Watch out for spite and pettiness. Earth and rock wisdom. Water affinities.
The Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) is the only species of venomous lizard found in the United States and Mexico. They are chunky, heavy, sluggish lizards with characteristic studded skin. They can be considered living fossils, due to not changing much since the Late Pleistocene. They have robust claws, and strong forelegs for digging. They can grow up to 60 centimetres in length, though many don’t get this big.
They can be found in scrubland, succulent desert, and oak woodland. They tend to shelter in burrows, under shrubs or rocks, in places with high enough humidity. They spend over 90% of their life underground or in shelters and will move to different shelters to find ones with the best microclimates. They do not like living in open spaces. They can sometimes be seen active on warm nights or after thunderstorms. Gila monsters are dependent on nearby water. They undergo brumation (a kind of hibernation) during winter.
They use a well-developed sense of smell to largely eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, carrion and the eggs of many animals. They can eat between 30-50% of their body weight per meal, depending on their age. Their predators are coyotes, badgers and birds of prey, and hatchlings can be eaten by snakes. Gila monsters take 4-5 years to become sexually active. During courtship, females will bite and chase males she’s not interested in. Males will also sometimes combat each other. Copulation can last between 15 minutes to 2.5 hours. Clutches are normally only around 6 eggs, and young are born able to inject venom. Young spend the first period of their life going straight into brumation, before venturing out many months later to hunt prey. They can live up to 40 years in captivity.
Due to its reputation, and its venom (which has not caused a fatality since 1930, and is not considered fatal to healthy humans) which is considered the most painful of any vertebrate, they are sometimes killed despite being protected by laws in some places. Bites are extremely rare, as the lizard is so sluggish. Mythology has developed around the Gila monster, including beliefs that it had toxic breath or that its venom was fatal. Different First Nations peoples have different beliefs depending on the tribe, where it can be positively or negatively favoured. Gila monsters are threatened with habitat destruction, and they do not respond well to relocation (tending to travel back to their place of origin). It is the official state reptile of Utah.