MONSTERS MAKE THE WORLD INTERESTING
December 4, 2011
grandson, and I were surrounded by live pythons, cobras, and Gila monsters.
It would be fun to add, "there was no escape!" But that would
be wrong. All we had to do was stroll to the exit of the Repticon Reptile
and Exotic Animal Convention, the event where herpetoculturists (people
who keep reptiles and amphibians for pets) gather to trade, sell, or
simply display their animals. We were just there to look at up-close
views of giant pythons from Asia, spitting cobras from Africa, and a
lifetime supply of Gila monsters? Those on sale were captive-raised
animals; removing Gila monsters from the wild in the U.S. Southwest
(pronounced hee la) monster, our largest lizard, is one of only two
truly venomous lizards in the world, the other being the closely related
Mexican beaded lizard. David E. Brown and Neil B. Carmony wrote a book
called "Gila Monster: Facts and Folklore of America's Aztec Lizard"
debunking much of the folklore and foolishness about the species. Even
biologists may have a few misconceptions about how dangerous they are.
Confirmed records of a healthy, sober person dying from the bite of
a Gila monster are virtually nonexistent. Old newspaper articles give
sensational, overstated accounts of deaths from the "Boris Karloff
of the desert," but medical records and other evidence surrounding
presumed lethal bites reveal that death was more likely caused by the
victim's massive intake of alcohol. Without complicating factors, no
one is likely to die from the venom of a Gila monster.
bite hurts and might scare a person almost to death. Gila monsters are
noted for their tendency to "hang on like a bulldog," so the
first order of business is to get the animal off. Pliers and a screwdriver
were the implements two of my Arizona colleagues used for prying off
an attached Gila monster. The vicious teeth, which look like pieces
of broken glass, can slice and tear flesh if the animal is yanked off.
are very fat as lizards go, with skin that looks like a covering of
orange or pink and black pebbles. They have been described as having
"Halloween hued skin the texture of Indian corn." The large,
rounded tail is half the length of the body and serves as a storage
compartment for fat and water. The tongue is forked like a snake's,
and the Gila monster's primary food consists of rodents, birds, bird
eggs, and other lizards,. The head and body are covered with a primitive
armor of bony plates beneath the skin, making it almost impenetrable
by a predator's teeth.
to be learned about the ecology and behavior of Gila monsters. These
bulky creatures may be able to go a year or more without food or water,
but no one knows how long for sure. In one study, several of the animals
equipped with radio transmitters were found to spend 95 percent of their
time underground. What do they do all that time beneath the earth's
its scientific discovery in 1869, this fascinating lizard suffered due
to human ignorance. But attitudes have changed with environmental education
efforts. The Gila monster is now recognized as part of the Sonoran desert's
natural heritage and symbolic of native wildlife of the Southwest. In
1950 Arizona became the first state to pass a law to protect a venomous
reptile. In 1985 the Gila monster missed becoming the official state
reptile of Arizona by only a few votes, losing out to the ridge nosed
rattlesnake, which is not nearly as beguiling as a fat, pink, venomous
prepared to leave Repticon, I thought my grandson might try and cajole
me into getting him a pet Gila monster. He didn't, probably because
his dad had already dashed all hope of having a fun pet when he put
his foot down about getting a baby cobra. Some parents are like that.
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