The first panel we attended at the 2016 Tucson Festival of Books was presented by the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. We arrived at the tent half an hour before the program was scheduled to begin so we could pick the perfect seats to view the animals. The tent was empty, and we decided the front row was the obvious best choice.
We were not disappointed! The first animal displayed and discussed was a magnificent male Gila Monster, a venomous lizard native to the Sonoran Desert. Thank you to Stephane Poulin, General Curator of the Desert Museum, for the presentation.
Gila Monsters have bony growths, called osteoderms, embedded in their skin that create a bumpy, tough exterior. Their coloring can range from an orange and black to a more pink and black pattern, used as camouflage to blend in with the rocky desert. Each Gila Monster’s pattern is unique, very much like a human fingerprint.
The first time I remember hearing about a Gila Monster was on an episode of ER (specifically Season 6, Episode 16, titled “Under Control” aired March 2000) in which one had latched onto a man’s arm, refusing to let go. Not a great first impression.
It’s worth noting that Gila Monster bites are usually not fatal to humans, according to the San Diego Zoo, and they usually avoid larger animals (including humans).
Gila Monsters are known as nest raiders due to their proclivity for stealing baby rodents and other eggs from nests. These lizards have the ability to store fat in their tails, which allows them to go long periods without eating a meal. Gila Monsters can eat as few as two or three meals a year. They are a fairly slow moving lizard with a top speed of about 1.5 miles per hour.
We visited the Gila Monster again at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum tent on Saturday afternoon. We discovered that Gila Monsters are adorable when they are sleeping, as you can see from the photo above!
While writing this article, I discovered another cool fact: Gila Monster venom can help fight diabetes! It’s not actually the venom, but rather a synthetic form. The drug is called Exenatide, and helps manage type 2 diabetes.
Who said that the first impression is the last impression? Gila Monsters are now in my good books.
What are your impressions of these lovely creatures?