The Gila monster is a large ground-dwelling lizard, named after the Gila River Basin of south-western United States.
The Gila monster is one of only two species of venomous lizard, both belonging to the family Helodermatidae, that are similar in appearance and habitat. Most of the Gila monster's teeth have two grooves which conduct the venom from the lower jaw. The toxin is not injected like snake venom but instead flows into the wound as the lizard chews its victim. The venom attacks the nervous system and causes paralysis of the respiratory muscles. The effectiveness of the venom varies in humans but it is rarely fatal. The poison may be used more for defence than attack.
The Gila monster is a carnviore and its small mammals, birds, lizards and eggs.
It has a keen sense of smell to help locate food, but it is slow moving and therefore tends to hunt slow moving prey. It feeds on nesting birds or rodents and the eggs of birds and reptiles. It uses its twitching tongue and Jacobson's organ (a double pit in the roof of the mouth which picks up scent particles enabling it to know what it is tasting and smelling) to locate prey, which it then seizes and bites. It can eat a third of its body weight in one meal.
This reptile can be found in the scrub forest, desert and semi-desert of the USA and Mexico.
The main threats to the Gila monster are human development of the arid scrub areas where it lives and attack by feral or domestic cats and dogs. This results in the species being listed as Near Threatened.
The Gila monster is on an EAZA European Endangered species Programme (EEP), and Bristol Zoo works hard together with other European zoos to continue the population of gila monster in human care.
A synthetic version of a protein found in Gila saliva is now used as a treatment for diabetes.
You can find our gila monster in the Reptile House and in Twilight World
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