From the Field

Gila monsters are amazing reptiles.  They spend 95% of their time inactive, cloistered in dark chambers without natural light.  But here’s where they differ from Regional Office employees – Gila monsters reserve their short bouts of activity to seek smorgasbords of food.  Well, while that may cover office staff too, Gila monsters eat raw eggs like Rocky Balboa, and baby birds like Rocky probably would too, if he could buy them at his wife Adrian’s pet store.

Gila monsters live in the arid deserts of the Sonora desert (Sonora Mexico and southern Arizona). While sluggish and relatively docile, it packs a mouthful of teeth making any goblin shark proud. It can deliver a wicked, venomous bite when angered, perhaps from someone grabbing its tail, or stealing its egg or baby bird.

The body of the Gila monster is covered in plates, or nobs made of protruding bones inlaid in the skin.  This gives them a bumpy feel, reminiscent of my Aunt Edith’s triceps when she was infected with poison ivy. She lives in Maine, and like those New England autumn leaves, the Gila monster coloration ranges from bright yellow to vermillion, only in southwestern patterns similar to designs woven in Navajo rugs.

These remarkable and alluring creatures form an extraordinary encounter, possible on any Sonoran journey into the backcountry.  Just watch and they’ll provide you a thrill.  But if grabbed, you’re likely to get a large bill, from an emergency room visit!

Bill Radke (left) with Lacrecia Johnson (center), confident of Bill’s firm grip on a Gila monster, unlike Chris Lohrengel (far….right).
Bill Radke (left) with Lacrecia Johnson (center), confident of Bill’s firm grip on a Gila monster, unlike Chris Lohrengel (far….right).

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