Wrestling Monsters

Sometimes, in my line of work, it happens that I have to wrestle beasts, brutes and monsters. And I’m not just talking about a particularly finicky photo editor or client…

And so it was then last week, that I got to work with a special kind of monster. It had a purple tongue. And scaly skin. And claws. In short – it was the newest addition to the wildlife area of the Bend High Desert Museum: the Gila Monster.

Wikipedia generously provides us with the following account (and so much more) about the charming qualities of above creature:

The gila monster (pronounced “HEE-la”) is a species of venomous lizard native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It is a heavy, slow moving lizard, up to 60 cm (2 feet) long, and is the largest lizard native to the USA.

Unlike snakes which use hollow upper teeth (fangs), the Gila monster injects venom into its victim through grooves in the teeth of its lower jaw. The teeth are loosely anchored, which allows them to be broken off and replaced throughout their lives. The Gila monster produces only small quantities of its neurotoxic venom, which is secreted into the lizard’s saliva. By chewing its prey, however, it tries to put as much of the venom into the bloodstream of its victim as possible. The Gila monster’s bite is normally not fatal to humans (there are no confirmed reports of fatalities), but it can bite quickly and holds on tenaciously.

From the kind and most informative creature wrestler at the museum (a brave soul who stood in the terrarium only inches from the lizard and tried to coerce it into posing for my camera for a full hour), I learned that the Gila monster is shy and spends 98% of its life underground. Which I suppose explained why it apparently didn’t like my lights too much and – fussy as it was – constantly tried to crawl into cracks and holes in the exhibit.

The lizard also showed off an incredible gift for climbing and moved at surprising speeds on the slick rock. Again, the handler related that should one come across one of these lizards in the wild (unlikely, but it’s been known to have happen), one should just back away slowly – and quietly hope that the lizard may be too full from a recent feast of mice and other small animals to be in the mood to chase after you.

Knowing all that, I was pretty happy that I even got the shots I did – without having had to sacrifice any small animals, handlers, or even editors.

I think the museum was overjoyed too.

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