By David Brown

Meet the Gila monster:

Jeff Servoss, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Gila monster is not really a monster at all…

It is a kind of lizard that lives in the deserts of the United States and Mexico. The “Gila” part of its name comes from a river basin in Arizona where it lives. The “monster” part of its name comes from the fact that it has venom. The Gila monster and its cousin the beaded lizard are the only known venomous lizards in the Americas.

In a 1959 horror movie called “The Giant Gila Monster,” a 70-foot-long Gila monster chases people and rampages through a desert town. 

The Giant Gila Monster movie poster. Directed by Ray Kellogg.

Gila monsters don’t really chase people and bite them with their venom. Gila monsters don’t really chase anything. They spend most of their lives underground in their burrows in the desert.

The favorite foods of Gila monsters are bird and reptile eggs. Gila monsters don’t need venom to catch eggs, so why do they have it? Gila monsters may have venom to help defend them against predators that may want to eat them. 

Gila monsters have very colorful orange and black splotches all over them. These colors may tell predators “I am venomous and you do not want to eat me”.

Eds., H.G. Emery and K.G. Brewster, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If Gila monsters had bathtubs they would probably take really long baths. In zoos Gila monsters will sit in their water bowls for long periods of time. In their desert homes Gila monsters have been seen sitting in puddles. This may be one way that they help stay cool in the desert.

Learn more about Gila monsters in this video from USGS:
Video credit: USGS

More resources:

Arizona State University, Ask a Biologist: all about the Gila monster

Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute: Gila monster facts

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance: Gila monster facts


Beck, Daniel. 1995. Biology of Gila Monsters and Beaded Lizards. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California.

“The Giant Gila Monster.” 1959. Directed by Ray Kellogg.