Man dies from bite of pet Gila monster

Gila monster

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — A Colorado man died after he was bitten by one of his two pet Gila monsters earlier this month, authorities said.

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According to the Lakewood Police Department, the 34-year-old victim was bitten by the venomous lizard, KUSA-TV reported. The Lakewood resident, whose name has not been released, was bitten on Feb. 12, according to the television station.

Medical teams responded to the victim’s home at about 11:45 a.m. on Feb. 12, KDVR-TV reported. The man was taken to an area hospital but died on Feb. 16, the Jefferson County coroner told KCNC-TV. The juvenile lizard was approximately 12 inches in length.

“I think this case highlights that any venomous animals should be respected,” Nick Brandehoff, a medical toxicologist and expert in reptile bites with the Asclepius Snakebite Foundation, told the television station. Brandehoff was consulted on the Lakewood case and said his research determined that the last fatality from a Gila monster bite came in 1930.

“That was not even a medical journal case,” Brandehoff said.

According to the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, Gila monsters are venomous and have “one of the worst reputations in the reptile world.”

The reptile’s venom is produced by a row of glands in its lower jaw, zoo officials said.

“When the lizard bites, small grooves in the teeth help the venom flow into its prey,” the zoo notes on its website. “The bite of a Gila monster is very strong, and the lizard may not loosen its grip for several seconds.”

According to the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, the Gila monster is one of only three venomous lizards in the world. The agency refers to them as “non-threatening creatures” who spend 95% of their lives in underground burrows.

“These animals do not want to bite you,” the agency noted. “In fact, before biting, these desert creatures will often hiss or even back away slightly. This is their warning that they are not happy and are going into defense mode.

“If a Gila monster still feels threatened after this warning, then it can bite in a split second.”

A day after the man was bitten, Lakewood Animal Control officers went to the victim’s home and removed both lizards, with the assistance of Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.

They have been taken to a wildlife rehabilitation facility, KDVR reported.

Eric Harper, a criminal investigator with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, told KCNC that it is illegal to own Gila monsters in Colorado without a license. Harper said the victim also owned tarantulas, which are not illegal to own.