Photo by Jerry Schudda
Gila Monster – Heloderma suspectum
Gila Monsters are slow moving, armored and one of only two species of venomous lizards in North America. Their skin is speckled with osteoderms or small bones that help to protect the animal. They tend to spend most of their time underground and are most active during their mating season in the spring and the summer monsoon rains when the humidity increases.
Although their venom is not considered to be lethal, it can range from mild swelling to shock and serious swelling requiring hospitalization. It typically causes excruciating pain that will last for a few days. Because their venom is secreted in their saliva, they tend to clamp down and grind their teeth when biting, meaning that they often do not let go for upwards of 10 minutes. A component of Gila monster venom has also been copied for use in medicine to produce the type II diabetes mellitus medication Januvia.