Gila Monsters are the largest lizards in the United States. As such, they have few known predators, though they are sometimes hunted and eaten by coyotes, birds of prey such as eagles and hawks, foxes, and mountain lions.
What is a Gila Monster?
Gila Monsters are huge lizards that live in the Sonoran Desert, which stretches through Arizona across the border into Mexico. They grow to about two feet long, which includes a tail that is about five to six inches.
A Gila monster’s skin is covered in rough scales which are colored in a very beautiful pattern of orange and black. They have strong claws that they use for digging and jaws which clench prey and don’t let go.
Because they live in a very hot and dry region, they love to find shelter in shady places, where there is more likely to be moisture. You might find one under a rock or in a small thicket of scrub oak. In fact, they like it so much in these cool dark spots that they spend almost 90% of their time hiding from the scorching desert sun.
On those rare occasions when it does rain, Gila monsters love to go out and make the most of the unusual weather. People have even seen them rolling around and splashing in puddles!
What do Gila Monsters eat?
Living in constant heat, Gila Monsters don’t like to move around too much. They are slow to walk and even slower to digest. Did you know that in the wild a Gila Monster only eats four to five times a year? Imagine being that full after the last meal that you wouldn’t eat for another two months!
When they do eat, Gila Monsters go after small animals such as birds, frogs, mice, other lizards, and insects. They have even been caught scavenging or eating meat that’s already died or been killed by another animal.
A Gila Monster’s favorite meal is eggs. They can even smell an egg buried half a foot underground and climb trees or cactuses to go after this tasty treat.
Are They Really Monsters?
That depends on what you mean. There are lots of wild stories going around about Gila Monsters, but it’s good to separate the truth from the legend. Like we said earlier, Gila Monsters are big, tough animals and there aren’t many other species that are strong enough to take one down.
On top of that, Gila monsters are venomous, meaning that their bites are poisonous, and their strong jaws ensure the poison goes deep into their victims. They’re not an animal that you’d want to tangle with. But don’t worry too much, they rarely go after humans.
So what eats a Gila Monster?
In the wild, the number one predator the Gila monster faces is the coyote. When facing one of these massive lizards, the coyotes form a group. That way they can surround the Gila monster and attack from different sides.
When they get scared, Gila monsters will open their mouths wide and hiss. This might be a good warning to leave them alone, but a group of hungry coyotes won’t let themselves be intimidated so easily.
Birds of prey such as eagles and hawks have been known to go after Gila monsters.
These birds are incredibly strong and their claws are razor-sharp, which they need to pierce through the scaly armor of the Gila monster.
They say bald eagles can carry up to four pounds, though there are some reports of them making off with families’ pets that are a bit larger. They are fully capable of snatching a baby or young Gila monster and taking it as a meal.
Just as Gila monsters love eating other animals’ eggs, sometimes those animals will return the favor. Foxes in particular love a good egg and will use all of their tricks to try to sneak off with a Gila monster’s egg.
Occasionally, if they get the chance, they’re able to grab a young or weak Gila monster and make that into a meal.
Just like foxes, these wildcats can sneak up on and catch a Gila monster. They are bigger and stronger than a fox though, so they are able to go after somewhat larger prey. Unfortunately, there are very few mountain lions left these days.
Other Dangers for Gila Monsters
The greatest threat to Gila monsters probably comes from humans – for a variety of reasons.
As cities spread out and ever-wider roads are built to connect them, many animals lose a place to call home. The Gila monster is no exception.
Aside from paving over the desert, the people who live there get thirsty and depend on the same water sources as the Gila monsters. Many of the rivers in Arizona now run dry for big chunks of the year. Also, a lot of the underground water, which nourishes the small trees and shrubs the lizard likes to hide out under, has been drained.
Because it is such a unique and beautiful animal, many people hunt it as a trophy. Gila monsters were actually the first venomous animal that received protected status in the United States. This prevents people from hunting them or deliberately endangering their eggs or homes.
Many people are afraid of Gila monsters. These people kill Gila monsters because they’re scared one will hurt them or their pets. However, Gila monsters rarely attack people or any animal that is larger than them.
Other animals rarely attack and eat Gila monsters. For one thing, they are big and strong and their skin is like rough leather – difficult to bite or scratch through. Besides, they spend most of their time hiding from the blazing heat and only come out to eat a few times a year, which doesn’t give predators much of a chance. Though every now and then one will get the better of a Gila monster.
Despite all these advantages, Gila monster populations are dwindling because more humans are taking up space where they live. It’s important we understand and protect these incredible creatures.