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GILA MONSTER Caresheet
Common Name: Gila Monster (pronounced HEE-la). Named after the Gila River Basin in Arizona and New Mexico.
Scientific Name: Heloderma suspectum
Origin: Southwestern US and northwestern Mexico
Size: 1’ to 2’ (including tail)
Lifespan: 20-30 years
You will find many ways on the internet on "how to" take care of this animal. This care sheet is showing the way we found works best for us from our many years of experience of breeding and caring for this species.
WARNING: FOR EXPERIENCED KEEPERS ONLY.
NOTE: Only captive-bred Gila Monsters can be legally bought and sold (wild-caught animals are prohibited). And some states restrict or ban the keeping of any Gilas as pets altogether.
The Gila Monster is the only venomous lizard found in the United States. As such, it is an advanced care reptile. The venom is stored in the lower jaw and is secreted through its teeth. A Gila is often docile which can lead you into a false sense of security. At anytime, it could bite. The venom is not deadly to a healthy adult human, but it can be quite painful. Sometimes, the only way to get the lizard to release its hold may be to submerge it in water or squirt hand sanitizer in its mouth. Be smart. Avoid this situation by wearing leather gloves when handling both young and matures.
In the wild, the Gila Monster’s natural habitat is rocky or scrub desert (or semi-desert) areas. They spend a lot of their life underground in burrows.
A young Gila can be kept in something like an Exo terra 36" x 18" x 24" for about the first year of life. But full grown lizards will need more space. Commercially available cattle troughs work well. Vision cages or custom-built enclosures are also viable options. The minimum dimensions should be at least 4’ x 2.5’ x 2’.
You want to keep the enclosure dry and clean. The bedding should be shallow with enough substrate to absorb waste liquids but not too deep that it becomes difficult to locate and remove. Exo terra sand or a mixture of playground sand and Eco earth work well.
Because the Gila Monsters likes to burrow, you must provide a hide to give it a sense of security. Also required is a proper water dish or tray for the lizard to soak in (more on this below).
LIGHTING & TEMPERATURES
Gila Monsters need a basking area and a cooler section within the enclosure so they can regulate their body temperature. All the lighting and heat elements should be located on one side and the other will be the cooler side.
A basking area of 85-90 degrees should be provided. The rest of the enclosure can be in the 80-85 ºF range. At night, temps can drop to as low as 75-80 ºF degrees. Use a good quality temperature gauge, like Zoo Meds digital temp gauge or Exo Terras Thermometer.
In addition to heat, monitors need UVB lighting to help absorb calcium and to synthesize vitamin D3. Since they are removed from natural sunlight in our homes, we must provide UVB light in the form of a special fluorescent bulb designed to produce UVB rays. Do not use heat rocks. They need the whole environment to be warm, not just a small area like a hot rock.
The best bulbs are the mercury vapors such as Exo Terra's Solar Glo bulbs, ZooMed's Powersun, or Solar bright bulbs. (Please recycle used mercury bulbs properly.) These provide heat and UVB all in one bulb. You can also use separate basking (heat) bulb and UVB bulbs. If you use these you will want the Zoo Med 5.0 or Exo Terra UVB 100 variety.
Your Gila Monster needs some humidity. Provide it in the form of a water dish or tray that it can soak it’s body in (but not tip over). Fill it to the height of the lizards belly. Replace with fresh water daily. Also scrub the bowl at least once a week to keep bacteria slime from building up.
In the wild, Gila Monsters feed on eggs, rodents, birds, and other small reptiles. In captivity, eggs are not recommended. Rather you should use pink and fuzzy mice for young lizards and then larger mice and rats as your lizard grows. They are good eaters so be careful not to over feed. You don’t want your pet to become obese (which can happen easily). Feed typically once a week. During winter months, less.
Gila Monsters are for the advanced keeper. Yet, they make nice pets for those who know how to properly care for them.