Gila Monster Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

In this lesson, you'll learn all about Gila monsters, where they live and what they eat. You will also learn some interesting facts about these lizards and what makes them unique.

What Is a Gila Monster?

You've probably seen small lizards before, scrambling to hide when you get too close. Gila monsters are not those lizards! Gila monsters (pronounced HEE-luh) are large, venomous black lizards with pink, orange or yellow designs on their back and they usually weigh about four pounds!

Gila Monster
Gila Monster

Gila monsters are reptiles, which means they are covered with scales, lay eggs and are cold-blooded. Cold-blooded means their body temperature changes with the temperature of their surroundings.

They make venom, a poisonous liquid, in their lower jaw, and they also have a very powerful bite. Once they've got their teeth in something, they don't like to let go! When they bite, the venom moves up along grooves in their teeth. The more they gnaw, the more venom works its way into the bite.

Even though they are venomous, the venom is more for self-defense than killing prey. Their bite is so strong that it usually kills the animal they caught for food. The venom is useful to protect Gila monsters against other animals that might try to eat them.

Gila monsters may look scary, but they are shy and aren't looking for a fight. Before it bites to protect itself from an enemy, it will hiss as a warning and try to back away. If that doesn't work, it will bite quickly, and the bite is very painful. No human deaths have been recorded from a Gila monster bite, but they should be left alone.

What Do Gila Monsters Eat?

Gila monsters are carnivores, meaning they only eat meat. Some animals on the Gila monster menu are mice, rabbits, frogs, eggs and other reptiles. They swallow their food whole without chewing it, except for eggs, which they break open first.

The Gila monster has a forked tongue, which is split into two sections. This reptile uses its tongue to pick up smells that will lead it to its prey. It's not fast, so it has to be sneaky. Gila monsters also have sharp claws, which they can use to dig up any buried food they find.

Gila Monster Showing its Forked Tongue
Gila Monster Showing its Forked Tongue

Gila monsters eat the most in late spring and early summer. They store fat in their tail to get them through the winter, and they can go a long time without eating.

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