Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum)

Gila Monster USFWS Photo by Jim Rorabaugh Arizona Ecological Services Field Office All images are for public use, but please credit the photographer and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Gila Monster From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Gila Monster (pronounced /ˈhiːlə/, HEE-la), Heloderma suspectum, is a species of venomous lizard native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It is a heavy, slow moving lizard, up to 60 cm (2 feet) long, and is the most venomous lizard native to the USA. Its skin has the appearance of black, pink, orange, and yellow beads, laid down in intricate patterns. These beads are small bony plates that form scales, and are known as osteoderms. Until very recently, it was thought to be one of only two species of venomous lizard, the other being its close relative the Mexican beaded lizard. However research at the University of Melbourne, Australia and Pennsylvania State University has revealed that in fact many lizards in the iguanian and monitor families have venom-producing glands.

The name "Gila monster" refers to the Gila River Basin in Arizona. The generic name for Heloderma is from the Greek words Helos coming from the head of a nail or stud, and derma for skin, therefore Heloderma means studded skin. Suspectum comes from Cope's notion that the lizard might be venomous due to the grooves in the teeth.

Unlike snakes which use hollow upper teeth (fangs), the Gila monster injects venom into its victim through grooves in the teeth of its lower jaw. The teeth are loosely anchored, which allows them to be broken off and replaced throughout their lives. The Gila monster produces only small quantities of its neurotoxic venom, which is secreted into the lizard's saliva. By chewing its prey, however, it tries to put as much of the venom into the bloodstream of its victim as possible. The Gila monster's bite is normally not fatal to humans (there are no confirmed reports of fatalities), but it can bite quickly and holds on tenaciously. When Gila Monsters bite, they hold on tightly and chew. This helps them work their venom into the bite. Gila Monster bites are not deadly, but it is important to see a doctor if bitten.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article, Gila Monster

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