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Gila Monster Photos: The Sluggish and Scaly Sweethearts of the American Desert

Live long and prosper

gila monster

(Image credit: NPS)

In the wild, a Gila monster can live upwards of 20 or more years. With human care, Gila monsters have been known to live as long as 36 years. Because of their large size, Gila monsters are capable of storing more energy than smaller lizards. Gila monsters store that energy in both their fat tails and large bodies. They also have a low metabolic rate, which allows them to search for food less frequently. Some herpetologists suggest that an adult Gila monster can eat all the calories it needs for an entire year with three or four large hunting trips. At a top speed of 1.5 mph (2.4 km/h), it is fortunate that a Gila monster does not have to make continual hunting excursions.

Newfound fame

gila monster

(Image credit: NPS)

Modern science has put current knowledge and understanding of those shy Gila monsters into a far more positive light. In fact, modern medical science has extracted a protein found in the Gila monster's poisonous venom that aids in the human production of insulin, a potential lifesaving benefit for the millions of humans around the world who suffer from Type 2 diabetes. Pop culture has even made the Gila monster a movie star in the 2011 animated film "Ringo."

Today, the athletes of Eastern Arizona Community College charge onto their fields as the "Fighting Gila Monsters" of EAC. All this newfound appreciation and fame for these once-maligned monsters is probably appropriate for one of nature's most unique and ancient species. But most real Gila monsters would probably just prefer to be left alone to slowly carry on through their days in their homes in the North American Deserts, hidden from all human contact and even all the positive recognition.