SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — As Utah’s official state reptile, the Gila monster is rarely sighted and experts warn of its dangers — but what do we know about the mysterious lizard species?
The Gila monster looks more reminiscent of a dragon than a lizard. Native to the dry regions of the southwestern United States, these reptiles grow up to two feet in length and can live as long as 40 years.
Their appearance is rather unmistakable, as they range in bright shades of yellow and orange with black bands, spots, and bony deposits forming scales that protect them from predators.
Being the only venomous lizard in the U.S., experts recommend keeping your distance when encountering the Gila monster out in the wild, though it’s said that they only bite when provoked or threatened.
However, the chances of sighting one of these lizards are low as they are primarily nocturnal and reportedly spend 95 percent of their lives below the ground.
As carnivores, Gila monsters’ diet consists largely of small mammals, as well as eggs from tortoises and birds.
According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the lizards can consume up to 33 percent of their body weight in a single meal, therefore only eat three or four times each year.
They’re protected by law in each of their native states, making it illegal to capture or move any Gila monster found in the wild.
For those hoping to catch a glimpse of a Gila monster within their lifetime, the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve Visitor Center in St. George plays host to a 36-year-old Gila monster named Hercules.