The Gila monster (pronounced hee-la) and its close cousin, the Mexican beaded
lizard, are the only two venomous lizards in the world. It is the largest venomous lizard in the United States and gets its name from Gila River in
Their venom is made by a row of glands in the
lizard’s lower jaw. When they bite, small grooves in the teeth help the
venom flow into the victim. The bite of a gila monster is very strong, and they may not loosen their grip for several seconds. It may even chew so that the
venom goes deeper into the wound. They are solitary and live in desert and
semi-desert areas with just enough moisture to support a few shrubs. The lizards
prefer rocky foothills and are inactive much of the time,
hiding in burrows or under rocks.
During cold winter months, they stay in their burrows and use their tail fat storage to keep them alive. They begin to hunt again in the spring. In 2005, the US Food and Drug Administration
approved a drug for the management of Type 2 diabetes based on a protein from
the gila monster’s saliva.