Mar 8, 2009

A Lizard By Any Other Name

I can't believe I haven't ever posted on the gila monster before. The gila monster! A lizard that lives in my backyard (if I extend my backyard about a thousand miles to the south east).

What distinguishes the gila monster from other lizards isn't so much its size (upwards of two feet) or its coloration (black and orange and pink), but its venomous bite. Try to think of any other lizards that have actual venomous bites and you'll be hard pressed to think of anything but the gila monster and its cousin, the Mexican beaded lizard.

The bite is rarely fatal to humans, though it's still unpleasant. Their teeth are equipped with grooves through which the neurotoxin flows. They don't inject the venom like a viper. Rather, it flows into the wound while the gila monster gnaws (my son might be similiarly equipped--his dinner always accedes defeat too readily).

Photo source: Joachim S. Müller


















Isn't the the fame of the gila monster relative to the lesser-known Mexican beaded lizard further proof that the name is everything? That names have power? If the Mexican beaded lizard had been named the Mexican death lizard or even the Mexican monster, it would get a lot more attention. Let that be a lesson to all those who intend to be marketing experts.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Gila monsters alway remind me of ice-cream popsicles covered in crunchies. Mmmmmmmmmm...chocolate and strawberry crunchy lizard.

Raging Wombat said...

Dangit! Why did you have to relate the gila monster to ice cream? Now that's all I'll think about.

angrycuban said...

Mmm... poisonous, ill-tempered, gnawing ice cream...

Kenton and Rebecca said...

We've just discovered your blog -- we love it! We knew the Gila Monster was venomous, but had no idea it got up to two feet long! And what a lovely description of its method of inflicting venom . . . =)

Raging Wombat said...

Angry cuban; I should have added 'forbidden' to the description.

Thanks, Kenton and Rebecca. Glad you like it.

Neil said...

According to a recent study (Fry et al. 2006), mild venom is actually present in a few other lizards (including Varanid monitors, and the popular pet Pogona a.k.a. bearded dragons) and actually might be far more common than previously realized. None of these come close Heloderma in terms of nastiness however.

For what it's worth, Bryan Fry has tremendously entertaining website packed with "ugly" and beautiful venomous critters: www.venomdoc.com

bonni said...

I spent most of my childhood in Arizona, and as it happens, my mother was something of a rock hound (a mineral collector, more or less), so we spent a lot of our weekends wandering around in the desert.

One time, we went into an abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere and encountered a gila monster (by the way, it's pronounced "heela" rather than with a hard G, just in case anyone needed to know that). The thing was pretty big, probably a foot and a half long. When my father, who was taking pictures, decided to try to get a bit closer, I have the clear recollection of it turning its head and opening its mouth and maybe I'm imagining this part, but I think it actually hissed at him. Happily, we knew it was poisonous and didn't mess with it, and it was happy enough for us to go away and leave it alone. We did get some nice photos of it, though.

So there you go. A totally unsolicited story of a fairly routine encounter with a gila monster, complete with handy pronunciation guide. What more could you ask from a blog comment, eh?

Mmmmm. Ice cream... poisonous, ugly, hissing ice cream....

niner said...

Many types of reptiles hiss, anything from pet iguanas to huge alligators and crocodiles (birds do too!). It is nothing less than a warning. This little guy is a cutie! I like this post; we need more!

Raging Wombat said...

Come for the uglies, stay for the comments. Thanks, bonni.

La Pew said...

Can verify the hissing thing. Got hissed by a blue tongue lizard in Tasmania once and I wasn't even singing!

We've got our own family of blueys in our garden now ;-) We rescued a gravid female from a pallet of tiles we were buying second hand.

When the tile owners saw her emerge from the pallet they were all 'git the shovel, pa' and my partner quickly asked if the Bluetongue could be included in the tile purchase. Dealio!.

A big bonus for our garden. Plus we now have good reptile karma. How cool is that? Plus, she likes my singing.

niner said...

Lovely story, La Pew!

We once had a little anole come in on a shipment of house plants. One might have thought it was a mouse running around, what with all the "Eeeks!". The little guy didn't hiss but raised his itty bitty dewlap (I almost died of the cuteness) and I ended up taking him home and putting him in an extra habitat. We had him for 2 or 3 ears after that. Silly anoles. I wish they had a longer lifespan.

Anonymous said...

I once saw on a nature show on TV a bit about a reptile researcher who was just trying to do too many things at once and go into trouble. He was putting a gila monster back into its cage when the phone rang. So he answered it and was taking some notes when the lizard reared around and bit him and just wouldn't let go. Ouch! He survived of course but he's probably a little more careful around the monsters nowadays.

--
Bruce T.

lizardgrrl said...

In response to Neil's comment about venomous bearded dragons, it is not Pogona vitticeps, the very popular Inland or Central Bearded Dragon, but the Eastern bearded Dragon, Pogona barbata, that was recently been discovered to contain very mild venom in the bite with "serial, lobular non-compound venom-secreting
glands on both the upper and lower jaws." Having been bitten a few times by beardies (vitticeps) racing for hornworms and making no distinction like fingers, if there are toxins in the bite, they have had no effect on me.