Hercules is a Gila monster in our visitor center that we use for public presentations. Without a Certificate of Registration (COR) issued by the State of Utah, it is illegal to collect or possess a wild Gila monster. Red Cliffs Desert Reserve has a COR to keep “Herc” and use him for educational purposes.
The largest and only venomous lizard in the U.S., Gila monsters can reach up to 2 feet in length. Each lizard has a unique pattern of beaded skin consisting of black bands with pink, orange, or yellow colored scales. Gila monsters spend up to 98% of their time in underground burrows or rock shelters. They eat nestling mammals and the eggs of birds, lizards, snakes, and tortoises. Since they eat only a few times per year, each meal is very large as they consume up to a third of their body mass in one sitting. They store some of the food as fat in their tail for long periods of inactivity.
Although these lizards are seemingly slow and not very aggressive, they are not to be handled. They can make surprisingly quick movements if harassed or surprised, and their bite is extremely painful. Bites are seldom fatal, but medical attention should be sought immediately to prevent complications.
If you find a Gila monster in your yard, garage, house, or anywhere else where you would like it removed, please call the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, animal control, or the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve to have the animal picked up and re-located to a safer location. These lizards are only aggressive if disturbed, so in most situations it is easiest to just leave them alone and let them go on their way.
If you are lucky enough to see a Gila monster in the wild, please let us know. They are extremely rare, so your sightings are really important to us. Please fill out the observation form below and email it back to us or the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.