In the 50’s they were portrayed as radioactive, gigantic, reptilian predators roaming the desert landscape, looking to fall on some unsuspecting couple who just happened to get a flat tire. Far from the Hollywood hype, gila monsters are one of the most fascinating, gentle and incredible creatures of our desert southwest.
They are brightly colored, usually a combination of red and black. They have a pebble like texture to their skin, and make their lives in the desert feeding on the eggs of reptiles and birds, although they will eat small birds and decaying animals remains if given the opportunity. They primarily live underground in burrows and only come out for short periods of time, usually late in the day or at night to feed, which only happens 5-8 times a year.
They are very slow moving, and to watch one make its way across the desert floor is a tedious investment in time. They prefer to be in rocky areas, close to a source of water if possible. They have been seen to immerse themselves in pools of water, which only adds to their mystique.
The gila monster is not out for a fight. Lacking get-away speed and relying only on a strong jaw and venomous bite, one has to almost deliberately tempt a gila monster to engage with you.
If you encounter a gila monster, the best thing to do is to just let it go on its own way. If it is trapped in your yard, use a shovel to carefully scoop it up and place it on the ground outside your yard. Remember, they are a protected species here in Arizona and we want to respect that.
I stumbled on the following quote while looking up some facts for this and laughed out loud when I read it. It seemed a fitting way to close my thoughts on the gila monster and separating the reality from the ridiculous.
|I have never been called to attend a case of Gila monster bite, and I don’t want to be. I think a man who is fool enough to get bitten by a Gila monster ought to die. The creature is so sluggish and slow of movement that the victim of its bite is compelled to help largely in order to get bitten.|
|— Dr. Ward, Arizona Graphic, September 23, 1899|