Gila monster named Utah state reptile

Gila monster in southwestern Utah. Photo by Lynn Chamberlain

Utah officially has a state reptile: the Gila monster.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 144 into law Wednesday, adding the reptile to a long list of State symbols.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWS) shared a number of facts about the species on their website.

Gila monsters are primarily located in west-central Arizona, but are also native to southwestern Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and parts of California. The Gila River in New Mexico is the namesake for the species.

Snow Canyon State Park, designated trails in the Red Cliffs Reserve and the BLM Red Cliffs recreation area are the most likely places to see a Gila monster in Utah.

The large, heavy-bodied lizards primarily eat tortoise and bird eggs, as well as baby cottontail rabbits and other small mammals that can’t move quickly.

Gila monsters can eat up to 33 percent of their body weight in a single meal — and it digests slowly — so they only eat three or four times a year. As a result, they spend 95 percent of their time out of sight in burrows and below ground while their food digests.

Gila monsters typically live up to 25 years, and while they are not a federally endangered species, it is illegal to capture or move a Gila monster found in the wild.

The lizards can range in color from yellow with black bands to orange or pink with black bands.

If you do get lucky enough to see a Gila monster in the wild, according to the DWR, do not attempt to grab or touch one. They are slow-moving animals and are harmless when left alone.

Because sightings of the reptiles are so rare, people should report when and where they see Gila monsters to the DWR. People can email photos and descriptions of where they saw a Gila monster to DWR biologist Ann McLuckie at annmcluckie@utah.gov or they can report the sighting by calling 435-879-8694.

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1 Comment

  • Sam Peery March 30, 2019 at 9:22 am Reply

    Definitely not as endearing a creature
    As the horned lizards or “ horny toads” many of us have played with. In southern Utah I have several times encountered adult horned lizards with babies on their backs. Seems if Utah needs to have an official reptile, a reclusive poisonous monster is not as representative of our state as a horned lizard. But really, who cares?!

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