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.
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.
I think the museum was overjoyed too.