Little monster moves into Melbourne Zoo’s Reptile House

18 May 2022

A new resident is bringing a splash of colour to Melbourne Zoo’s Reptile House.

The bright orange-and-black juvenile Gila [pronounced: heel-a] monster is now big enough to venture out on its own after being born last year as part of a regional captive breeding programthe first born at the Zoo since 2008.

Melbourne Zoo Ectotherms keeper Jayden White said the young lizard has been developing steadily.

Since hatching, it’s been a fairly hands-off process,” said Mr White. “Most lizards are pretty self-sufficient from birth. When they are younger, we monitor their weight and body condition quite a bit to make sure they are growing well.

“However, we don't want them to grow too fast and put on any unnecessary fat deposits. It’s a slow and steady process to maintain their ideal weight and body condition.

As an ectothermic species, Gila monsters rely on the sun and their environment to regulate their body temperature, so the Zoo’s three adult Gila monsters will spend winter behind the scenes in a brumation state to replicate the conditions adults would experience in the wild. In cold weather, they enter a pseudo hibernation state where they become dormant and their metabolism slows.

“This brumation cycle is very important for sexually mature adults to successfully breed future clutches, which will help us to secure a future for these incredible lizards.”

Gila monsters are a large lizard species endemic to North America’s south-west and north-west Central America.

The species is primarily black with a mottling of yellow-to-pink markings, and are one of only two species of venomous lizards. This variation in colour allows the slow-moving reptile to camouflage among arid and rocky landscapes.

Wild Gila monster populations are declining due to habitat destruction and the illegal wildlife trade. They were the first venomous species to receive legal protection in North America.