An Arizona Gila monster video went viral on TikTok. Here's everything that's wrong with it

Shanti Lerner
Arizona Republic

A Tucson man posted a video on TikTok of himself removing a Gila monster from his garage. He covered it with a small trash can and pushed it out the door while telling viewers that the Gila monster is among the most venomous lizards in the world.

The May 3 post has more than 4.8 million views and 48,000 comments. But is it spreading accurate information about Gila monsters?

The Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary promotes conservation of native and non-native reptiles. The Arizona Republic talked to Katelyn Garcia, education and outreach director at the sanctuary, to find out how dangerous the Gila monster is.

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Garcia, who also runs the sanctuary's social media pages, came across the video as she was scrolling through TikTok.

“It intrigued me because the first part of the video doesn’t show that it's a Gila monster. It was just a guy scooting the trash can on the ground with something under it,” Garcia said.

When asked about her reaction to the video, Garcia said she couldn't help but giggle.

“Gila monsters kind of get that bad reputation because people hear the word venomous and think, 'Gosh, that thing is dangerous and it can kill you,' Garcia said. "And their name doesn't help, either.

"But they are actually pretty docile and easygoing, which is why the video’s caption made me laugh a bit."

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Are Gila monsters poisonous? 

Garcia said there are several reasons the video is misleading and shared some facts about the lizard:

  • There are no recorded deaths caused by a Gila monster’s bite, Garcia said. In fact, there isn't an antivenom for this lizard because there are few recorded bites and drug companies don't want to make a product that has no demand.
  • Seeing a Gila monster is rare, Garcia said. Gila monsters spend 90% of their lives underground.
  • Gila monsters use their venom to ward off predators. “For example, if a coyote were to attack a Gila monster, the Gila monster would just bite. The coyote wouldn't die, but it would just hurt enough that the coyote is never going to mess with the Gila monster again,” Garcia said.
  • Gila monsters are one of two venomous lizards in North America, the other being the Mexican beaded lizard in Mexico. A Gila monster is the only venomous lizard in the United States.
  • Gila monsters are protected. Individuals without proper permits are not allowed to move them or touch them. “Saying they are the most venomous animal or giving them that dangerous reputation could lead others to get rid of them or harm them like many people do rattlesnakes,” Garcia said.

What does a Gila monster bite feel like? 

A Gila monster bite hurts, but its venom would not affect you the way, say, a rattlesnake's would, Garcia said.

“For the most part it is just very painful and might cause some tissue damage but not the necrosis that you see from a rattlesnake bite,” Garcia said.

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How to remove a Gila monster from your home

Garcia suggested calling Arizona Game and Fish at 602-942-3000 to see what local groups are permitted to remove Gila monsters. If you call an animal removal service, ask if it has a wildlife services permit, which allows it to legally relocate protected animals.

@phoenixherp on TikTok 

Garcia decided to make her own TikTok video to help educate people. She's holding a Gila monster in it.

Her video is captioned: “Gila monsters get a bad rap but their venom has never killed anyone before!”

You can connect with Arizona Republic Culture and Outdoors Reporter Shanti Lerner through email at shanti.lerner@gannett.com  or you can also follow her on Twitter.

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