Are you hip to Gila monsters?

Quiz Yourself! Are you hip to Gila monsters?

Reticulated Gila Monster, Matthew Sullivan
Photo: Matthew Sullivan

1. Gila is pronounced:

A. HEE-la

B. Gill-ah

C. Guy-la

2.  In Arizona, Gila monsters are considered: 

A. Protected

B. Threatened

C. Endangered

D. The state reptile

3. Gila monsters love to chow down on: 

A. Native desert plants

B. Eggs and baby rodents

C. Avocado toast

4. If a tail on a Gila monster breaks off, it will: 

A. Regenerate within one year

B. Never grow back

C. Render the reptile unattractive to potential mates

5. Gila monsters are: 

A. Venomous

B. Poisonous

C. Neither, but they have a biting wit

6. The pebbled texture of a Gila monster is due to its having: 

A. Osteoderms (bony skin): little discs of bones for protection

B. Aerosiniums (air pockets): little cavities under the skin for cooling

C. Adult-onset acne and we don’t need to talk about it, ok?

7. Once a Gila monster bites, it can’t let go until: 

A. It thunders

B. You turn it upside down

C. Sundown

D. It’s assisted by an orthodontist

E. Until a donkey brays

F. It chooses to do so

8. Gila monsters have cool colors! What do they advertise?

A. Orange and black: Please stay back

B. Brown and grey: Come say “hey!”

C. Green and blue: I adore fondue

D. Red and Blue: Bear down, Wildcats!

9. There are two venomous lizard groups in North America. One is the Gila Monster, the other includes the: 

A. Chuckwallas

B. Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes

C. Mexican Beaded Lizards

D. The Geico Gecko

E. Komodo Dragons

F. Trick question! Gila monsters are poisonous

10. You can see a Gila Monster: 

A. In the cult classic

B. The Giant Gila Monster

C. In the Reptile Hall at the Desert Museum

D. In the “Live and (sort of) on the Loose” animal show at ASDM

E. All of the above

Photo: ASDM/Frankie Casalenuovo


1. A: HEE-la. Gila monsters were named after the Gila River Basin where there were initially found. Monster is an unfortunate misnomer for this slow-moving, elusive, and gentle creature.

2. A. Protected. Gila monsters are protected by Arizona State Law. Fines for capturing or harassing this lizard can be steep and can even be accompanied by jail time!

3. B. Eggs and baby rodents. This lethargic lizard is a predator but cannot chase down fleet-footed mice or fast-flying birds. So, they eat bird eggs (usually quail eggs since they nest low to the ground) or go into a packrat nest and feast on the pups.

4. B. Never grow back. Gila monster tails are precious appendages since they function as fat storage. The lizards will metabolize the fat bodies over the year, yielding necessary calories and water. However, Helodermatids do not partake in caudal autotomy (tail shedding).

5. A. Venomous. If it bites you and makes you sick, it’s venomous. If you bite it and it makes you sick, it’s poisonous. Theoretically, you could ingest venom and be perfectly fine because the proteins were not injected into tissue. This webcomic by Rosemary Mosco helps explain the difference!


6. A. Osteoderms (bony skin): little discs of bones for protection. 

Check out this Gila monster x-ray. You can see the osteoderms! 

7. F. It chooses to do so. There are many myths and wives tails surrounding Gila monster bites and while they are rather strong and stubborn about chomping, a lizard can let go when it chooses to do so. However, they do tend to hang on to a prey item for a while to effectively inject venom. These lizards do not strike and release à la a rattlesnake. They bite and chew and gnaw. Venom travels up grooves in their teeth and gets into the wound site.

8. A. Orange and black: please stay back! Gila monsters have aposematic coloration (the opposite of camouflage). They are advertising their toxic nature with stop-sign colors! It behooves a coyote (or budding herpetologist) to learn that the Gilas are communicating through skin tone. And it’s not just these loveable lizards sporting stop signs. Other animals that communicate their poisonous or venomous nature, or even just fake that they’re dangerous include coral snakes, monarch butterflies, skunks, and tarantula hawk wasps.

9. C. Mexican Beaded Lizards. Mexican Beaded Lizards, close cousins of Gila monsters, can be found in the more tropical regions of Mexico. Their range extends northward to touch the Tropical Deciduous Forest in southern Sonora and are thus also part of the Sonoran Desert fauna.

10. D. All of the above! Want to meet and greet this famous beauty? Check out “Live and on the Loose” presented at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday each week in the theater at the Desert Museum. Beat the heat, enjoy the AC, and learn more about these fascinating creatures!

Written by ASDM Education Specialist, Catherine Bartlett. 

One Comment Add yours

  1. Julia Mehrer says:

    Aced it! Thanks to “Live and On The Loose (sort of).


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