The Fattest tail in the book : Gila monster!

Just like other reptiles, Gila monsters lay eggs. A single female can lay 3-13 eggs, and she keeps them safe for four whole months! The eggs are 2.5 inches (6.3 cm) long most of the time and they also weigh up to 1.4 ounces (40 grams). When they are born, an average baby grows up to 6.3 inches (16 cm) long. After the Gila monster grows it takes usually 3-5 years to be mature and can live up to 20-30 years. 

They got their name because Gila means nail stud and beaded skin. The river Gila, in the SW portion of the USA, means “running water which is salty”. Heloderma Suspectum means “studded skin”, from the Greek language helos which means nail stud (or the flat part of a nail). So, (ἧλος). “the head of a screw or stud” + derma (δέρμα), “skin” = Heloderma Suspectum. The word Suspectum comes this paleontologist named Edward Drinker Cope, who thought this lizard was toxic, due to the grooves in their fangs.

The Gila monster has a pudgy wide tail. They also have a giant chunky body. This creature’s rocky beaded skin somehow looks like a labyrinth. Also it can be clumsy. I saw in a video where the monster was eating some quail eggs, then, as he decided to go sleep, he misplaced his foot somewhere and tumbled a bit. According to National Geographic, Gila monsters usually grow to about 20 inches (50 centimeters) and they also weigh around 4lbs (1.8 kilograms). Both heads and necks are wide, and their little round pupils stare out, with inky blackness. Their thick bodies are covered with ball-shaped scales. Some colors such as bright black, pink, yellow, and orange are patterns on this reptile. On their extended legs are long pointy claws. 

Gila Monster | National Geographic

Gila monsters are carnivores – that means they eat meat. When the Gila monster slacks off, they eat defenseless food such as eggs and newborn mammals. This creature doesn’t even chew their food, they swallow their food whole! This amazing monster even sometimes eats frogs, rodents, insects, lizards, worms and… carrion, which is the dead and rotting flesh of an already-killed animal.

The Gila monster only lives in the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Mojave deserts in the southwest of America and in the northwest of Mexico. According to National Geographic, this reptile spends 95% of their life in their burrows. Unless the Gila monster gets out of their burrow to forage their life is a piece of cake. They store all of their fat in their little tails and can go months without a single crumb of food. They usually do this during the winter and stay in their little burrows all season long. According to the San Diego Zoo when the Gila monster is hungry, it eats it all! This creature can gulp down a third of its whole body weight.

Deserts are hard to live in. Gila monsters have special bladders that conserve water for later use. When there is not a drop of water left, they empty their bladders to recirculate urine though their body. As scientists know, no other lizard has this special bladder (like, one could say, to some high-cost extreme camping equipment one would buy at REI), but guess what? A few turtles have this bad-to-the-bone bladder! However helpful, the full bladders make the already weighty and plump lizard even fatter and heavier.

 Gila monsters use their powerful venom in their saliva for defending, rather than hunting, according to the Animal Diversity website. When the Gila monster gets attacked it chomps on prey and never lets go, according to Arizona Poison and Drug information center.

Daniel D. Beck-the world’s leading authority on Gila monster, found out a duel with these monsters that lasted for 13 different rounds which also lasted 3 hours. The contest lasts until one of the monsters gives up, and of course its function is to allow the monsters to compete for the batting eyelashes of the female Gila, who sits watching nearby, under the shade of a Joshua tree.  

A group of Gila monsters are called a lounge. A group of Gila monsters are called a lounge because they like to lie around and absorb sunlight. The only other reason a Gila monster comes out of their burrow is to sit in the sun. The Gila monster is active depending on the weather. When it’s a hot day outside the Gila monster might come out at night only. When it’s much cooler the reptile might come out when it’s warm outside.

Gila monsters are pretty hard to find. A professional Gila monster biologist named Patrick Emblidge only found three Gila monsters in 10 whole months. I bet you that Gila monsters are rarely found because they spend 95% of their life in their burrows. One time there was a Gila monster found in a local business. Then a person called animal control. Animal control then picked up the Gila monster and returned it to his habitat.

About 25 million people have type 2 diabetes, and now lots of people can say that their lives are easier because of this monster’s venom. Back in 1992, endocrinologist John Eng figured out that the poison from the monster’s jaws has peptide in it, the synthetic copy he dubbed exendin-4. Acknowledging the peptide’s potential, Eng tried to synthesize it. He succeeded in making a version of it from scratch, mimicking almost exactly the monster’s venom, and he patented it exendin-4. When taking this synthetic copy, the production of human insulin is increased. Even though our bodies release a similar hormone, certain enzymes in our blood usually degrade it in around 2 minutes. On the other hand, exendin-4 (discovered from the monster) can stay working for some hours in the human body. Once he finished, the compound was the main substance in a drug named Byetta. Accepted by FDA in 2005, Byeyetta was a popular cure for people that had type 2 diabetes. If you didn’t know yet but, Eng is a big Gila monster fan. He even once said “It really is a beautiful lizard. Like many other animal species, it is under pressure from development and other environmental concerns. The question is, what other animals have something to teach us that can be of future value? And plants, too? We will never know their value if they are gone.”

The first reason is to warn other animals (including humans) that it is venomous. Animals such as the Gila Monster, Coral Snake, or Monarch Butterfly, are aposematic (colored to warn potential predators that they are attacking something venomous or poisonous). Other aposematic animals may be brightly colored, such as the Queen Butterfly or Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake, but are not acuttuly dangerous (Batesian Mimicry).

Back in 1890, an American scientist claimed that Gila monsters had killer halitosis. This is very unpleasant breath; this odor can be detected from very small distances from the lizard. Perhaps this is a way the Gila monster catches their prey, by making them tremble with revulsion and disgust? Or another theory is that the creature has scary and repugnant breath because their small bladder, recycling the urine as it does, does not allow their breath to mix with fresh blood.

What is also so fascinating about Gila monsters is that doctors use Gila monsters venom to treat people with diabetes. Gila monsters fatalities are really rare. The most recent fatality was when a drunk person poked a Gila monster with a stick – the Gila monster then bit the person and he died from the poison.

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