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Gila Monster Temperament (Are They Dangerous?)

Many people are curious about Gila Monsters, mainly because they are deemed as dangerous venomous lizards. However, what is their Behaviour really like?

What is the Gila Monsters Temperament like? In general, they are quite relaxed, solitary lizards. In fact, it tends to shy away from human contact due to fear. However, they do have a venomous bite and if they are scared or feel that they are being attacked they will defend itself by biting.

Now you know a little about how they behave, let’s look into if they are safe to be handled, if people actually keep them in captivity,  how to keep them if you wish to and so much more.

What is a Gila monster?

The Gila Monster (Heloderma Suspectum), is a venomous lizard from the southwestern regions of the United States and also found in Mexico.

It is closely related to the Mexican beaded lizard and is typically up to 2 feet long. It is a relatively heavy lizard and moves quite slow.

Will the Gila Monster bite you?

Yes, it can and will bite. However, it is unlikely to attack humans unless it feels under threat. Its natural form of Defence is to run away and avoid conflict. But, as discussed earlier, if they feel under threat they will bite you.

In the event that they do feel like they are being attacked, they will give a warning first by opening their mouth wide and making a hissing sound to give you the warning to stay away.

The bite is quite vicious and it will inject venom into you. However, it is unlikely to cause death. But one of the biggest problems with the Gilla monster is actually getting it off you once you are bitten.

Once it locks its jaws, it has a tendency to keep its mouth clampdown on your body. This can obviously cause extreme pain and psychological shock. All in all, quite a traumatic event to be avoided at all costs.

Are they safe to handle?

Generally speaking, no, they are not really safe to handle. However, if you are a trained professional and have the skills to do this it is possible to handle them. Be warned, even trained professionals still need heavy protective gloves. Just in case they get bitten.

An important tip, never hold them by their head or tail. This is because it can cause injury.

Is the Gila monster too dangerous to be kept in captivity?

They can be kept in captivity, however, they are definitely not for beginners or inexperienced lizard keepers.

To handle them successfully you need to have a large amount of skill, patience and the resources required to facilitate them. This is because they are quite large lizards.

If you feel that you’re capable of this I will give you some tips on how best to keep them happy in captivity.


The minimum dimensions for a Gila Monster are 4 x 2 x 2 ft. But, I want to stress that these are minimum dimensions. The reality is, a Gila monster is a large lizard and can be up to 2 feet in length. Therefore, the bigger the enclosure the better. They need as much room to maneuver as possible.

If you are interested in what types of tanks or enclosures, you could consider large cattle stock tanks can also be considered for this.

Another very important point is to have a very secure lid to keep them inside the enclosure. This is for two reasons. One, it’s important for the safety of your Gila Monster itself. But also for other people, because if it is to escape it could be dangerous. If someone pushes or prods it by accident, it could cause it to bite them.


The best substrate for the killer monster is bark chips, moss or sand. the main objective is to try and keep the enclosure as dry as possible.

You want to try and keep the substrate deep enough but at the same time not so deep that you can’t find loose bits of uneaten food or even lizard feces. Also when I say deep enough I mean deep enough so that it can absorb the moisture, are you with me?


The Gila Monster likes to spend a lot of times hiding in hideout dens or Burrows. Therefore, it is a good idea, in captivity, to emulate this.


In the wild, this lizard doesn’t eat very regular at all. As you can imagine it eats when it has success with hunting. To give you an idea of how infrequently it eats, you could expect them to eat only 8 to 10 times in a whole year.

When they do eat in the wild they typically eat Reptile eggs, small Birds, other lizards, frogs, etc.

In captivity, you can expect them to eat mealworms, crickets, and other insects. As they start to get a little bit bigger they will start to move on to small pinkie mice in their diet as well.

Heating requirements

This lizard enjoys a combination of basking in sunlight as well as cooling off in a reduced temperature area. Therefore, you need to emulate this behavior in your enclosure.

This heated area, where they can bask, can easily be emulated by having a simple rock (Click to see the price on Amazon) which is elevated and then having a heat lamp to provide the Heat.

In the warmer area of the tank, you want it to be 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In the cooler area, on the other hand, you want it to be from 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. At night-time you want the temperature to drop down anywhere from 70 to 75.

One thing to note, the heat that you provide is very important to the health of your Gila Monster. So, make sure that you have proper heating facilities. And also make sure that you have a plan B, in case anything goes technically wrong with your heating equipment.

Lighting requirements

Lighting is also critical to their wellbeing. It is advised, after the hibernation period, to provide 8 hours of light, followed by 16 hours of darkness. As it moves towards the summertime this will gradually increase. Light hours this time may increase up to 10 hours of light. It is important to have a basking light during these periods of lights to keep them happy.

Water requirements

They like to bask in the water directly, therefore, you need to provide a large enough water dish so that they can do this. You also need to make sure that you change the water on a daily basis. Because they like to bask in the water and drink at the same time.

Related questions:

Why is it called the killer monster?  The Gila monster was named after the “Gila River” where it was originally found. However, the word “Monster” is unknown. One can only assume it is due to their build and size. Maybe the word monster was just a nickname that was attached to them.

Are Gila Monsters the only venomous lizards? No, there are other venomous lizards, in particular, its Close relative the Mexican beaded lizard.

Many people believe that there are only two venomous lizards available which is known to be the Gila monster and the Mexican beaded dragon.

However, there are some debates to suggest that there are more venomous lizards than these two.

How do they keep warm during the winter months? In the winter months, they dig burrows to keep themselves warm. They also have a method of storing fat reserves in their tail. To keep them alive during times when there is not much food available for them.

Do they have very good eyesight? No, they do not have very good eyesight at all. However, this is not a big problem for them. Because when they hunt for food, in particular, they actually use their scent and smell to detect their prey. They will flick out their tongue to pick up the scent to direct them towards their prey.

Are you legally allowed to own a Gila monster? In some states in America, it is illegal to own a Gila monster. For example, in Massachusetts, you cannot have one.

In other States, such as Arizona, they closely monitor Gila Monsters. You are not allowed to hunt for them and then bring them into captivity. This is a violation.

So it is a good idea to check your local state or location to make sure that you can legally own one of these before going out and trying to keep one.


Hi, this is me with my daughter and my Lizard friend. I hope you enjoy my research. Please feel free to check out my "About Me" page to find out more about me.