8 Things Gila Monster Like to Eat (Diet & Facts)

Gila monsters are peculiar lizards that have characteristic heavy bodies and hard scales. They have black and pink or black and yellow bodies. The species relies on a strong venom to incapacitate its victims. Besides that, it also has a very firm grip that other animals cannot get free of.

In this article, we will see what do Gila monsters eat and will review some fun facts about them.

Gila monsters Habits and biology

Gila monsters are loners that live in a few North American desert regions. However, they do need some moisture for sustenance. The species create burrows in rocks and tend to roam around covered or semi-covered areas. You can rarely see the animal in the open, where it would be susceptible to predators.

Like many other lizards, the Gila monster depends on sunlight and temperature. But they cannot hunt when it is too hot. In such cases, they would go out only during the night. The animal walks awkwardly, swinging its tails from side to side for balance. Although not particularly fast, the lizard is a great climber.

As the weather gets colder, they will burrow deep into the ground with their sharp claws. Sometimes, they will occupy burrows of other species. Once they settle, they will stay there during the winter.

The species is not known for its eyesight. Like some other lizard species, they rely on their forked tongue to track prey. By using it, they can smell and taste other animals in the air. Given its lack of speed, the Gila monster relies on its cunning and the ability to meld with the environment.

Here are some of the lizards most common habits:

  • The animal spends a fraction of the year searching for food. It is a seasonal species that fatten during the summer and is mostly inactive during winter.
  • Unlike some other species, the Gila monster doesn’t hibernate. They might still go outside occasionally to catch some sun.
  • The lizard has a habit of raiding other animals’ nests. Aside from accumulating fat, they also need to get a lot of water early in the spring, before the dry season.
  • A part of that energy will also be spent on mating, which occurs in late May. During the season, males will seek out females and might even fight other males. When battling each other, they will use their tails, bodies and would bite the opponent.

What do Gila monster eat in the wild?

The animal relies on its toxic bite and strong jaws to subdue its prey. Once the Gila monster catches them, it will seep poison into their bloodstream. Meanwhile, it will maintain a strong grip on the victim by using its bite. Furthermore, the lizard’s bite is so strong that it can crush other animals. If the prey is really small, they will just swallow it.

Gila monster is a very proactive hunter. As soon as they make a kill, they usually continue searching the next nearby prey by flicking their tongue. The species has a major advantage on rocky, hard-to-access terrain but usually struggles to catch anything in the open. The lizard can climb cacti, trees and crawl almost upwards.

The species eats various food. For example:

  • Various mammals (rabbits, mice, hares, squirrels, and other rodent species)
  • Snake, tortoise, bird, and lizard eggs
  • Small birds
  • Other lizards
  • Frogs
  • Snakes
  • Insects
  • Carrion

Although you might think that the species is voracious, it isn’t necessarily so. They will only have three to four large meals during the spring as a preparation for the winter. While they might not necessarily hunt for additional food, they will still catch any suitable animal that crosses their path.

Like other inactive animals during winter, the Gila monster requires a high quantity of proteins and fats. In addition, they also require certain nutrients like iron and calcium. As long as they have a diverse and plentiful diet, they should get all these matters from their prey.

Newborns feed on their egg yolk during winter. It usually provides them enough sustenance to survive the season. Like all young, they have a much better appetite than the older animals. Hatchling Gila monster can eat 50% of its body weight during a course of a meal. However, it is worth mentioning that even adults can eat one-third of their weight in a meal. This is because they have a very slow metabolism.

Facts about Gila monster

Aside from its incredible venom, there are lots of other interesting things about this species. Here are the most intriguing fun facts about the Gila monster:

  1. Gilas hatch from eggs. During one cycle, a female can give birth to 13 young. They incubate eggs for four months. The young Gila monsters are the same as the adults in terms of their appearance. Once they’re born, they will be left to fend for themselves.
  2. This species is considered the largest North American lizard. On average, they are 1.4 heavy and 2.5 inches long. When born, a baby will have approximately 6.3 inches.
  3. The species is related to Mexican bearded lizards. Both of them have similar characteristics, at least in terms of venom lethality.
  4. Like with many other venomous species, the lizard’s scales are meant to threaten potential attackers. The striking colors warn other species that the Gila monster is toxic and shouldn’t be eaten.
  5. The scientists have developed a type 2 diabetes drug that relies on Gila monsters’ saliva. The experts jokingly call it “the lizard spit.”
  6. Although this species eats lots of different things, they especially like eggs from various animals. As mentioned, their young eat yolk during their first week. Besides eggs, they commonly eat babies of other animals.
  7. When attacking other species, the Gila monster is very deadly. Their toxin can incapacitate prey of various sizes. However, it isn’t particularly dangerous to humans. In fact, there was only one case of human death by the Gila monster (in 1930).
  8. The animal can live from 20 to 30 years. The oldest known lizard managed to reach the age of 36 in captivity. Unfortunately, experts classify this species as endangered due to the continuous destruction of natural habitats and commercial exploitation.
  9. Gila monster is a desert animal, but they cannot live in just about any desert. Instead, they require a specific semi-arid climate. You can find this animal in certain parts of the United States and Mexico. To be specific, they inhabit Sonora and Arizona.
  10. Approximately 20% of their body is their tail. Besides serving them for balance, they have other significance. The lizard stores the fat in tails, and they have enough of the substance to keep them alive for several years. Due to its importance, the Gila monster cannot detach and regenerate it like some other species. The loss of a tail would mean certain death.
  11. Despite its reputation, the animal is very mellow. They don’t have a major impact on the ecosystem, and they are not as voracious as some other species. When they eat, they do so to create supplies that would last them throughout the winter. Gila monsters commonly avoid large animals and humans and will only attack if you provoke them enough. They warn potential attackers by showing the inside of their mouth and hissing.
  12. In some ways, the Gila monster’s bite can be every bit as dangerous as its toxins. Often, people need medical attention after getting bitten by one of these animals. For poison to sink in even deeper, the lizard will start moving its jaw left to right. A person bitten by the lizard should pry open the animal’s mouth and pour water over the wound. Sometimes, the bite can lead to a nasty infection.
  13. The main secret behind the Gila monster’s bite lies in its teeth. Both of its jaws have sets of razor-sharp teeth. Their main purpose is not to chew but instead to grab, hold, and crush. The lower teeth are larger as this is where the poison comes through.
  14. The first ones were discovered near Gila River in Arizona, which is how they got their name.
  15. These are diurnal animals. An average Gila monster will spend 95% to 98% of its life underground and will come out of its burrow only to mate and eat.
  16. While very small in stature, these animals occupy enormous space. One Gila monster will reign over 1 square mile of territory. It will fiercely protect this area from any invaders. Although very solitary by nature, these animals will gather once a year during mating season from April to June.


Gila monsters are the largest North American lizard species. They spend most of their lives underground and will semi-hibernate during the winter. During spring and summer, the animal will have 3 to 4 large meals that will last them throughout the year. The species stores all its fat in its tail and loves to eat eggs and small animals.

The lizard is known for its strong bite and toxin. Although deadly to smaller animals, it doesn’t represent any threat to humans. In fact, they are very timid and will run from anything larger than them.

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