I dream of monsters. Reptiles who crawl into my slumber, I yearn for the teachings, for their company. Over the past month, I have seen an uncanny number of Gila monsters on my hikes. They’ve (almost mysteriously) appeared in my path and have sparked a curiosity in me to learn more about them.
The most obvious of reptiles, the Gila monster is one of the few lizards that are venomous. Of course, unlike rattlesnakes I have encountered, who are quick to strike, Gila monsters are meandering creatures. They are reluctant to interact and simply want to continue on their way. They are passive. You’d have to put your hand under their mouth to get them to attack, or else try to pick them up.
What I know of Gila monsters is that they want to get where they are going with a deliberate intention about them. They’re focused and intent, going about their business under the hot morning sun – a true desert soul.
The Basics of the Gila Monster
The Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, is a venomous reptile who’s native to the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. They range in length between 10-14 inches and weigh approximately 4 pounds. Their distinct markings of orange (sometimes appearing pink or yellow) and black patterned beads (not scales) cannot be missed. One of the showiest of lizards, they are beautiful by all accounts.
Their bite contains a powerful neurotoxin that causes necrosis (death of the tissues) in the unfortunate victim. The quintessential hermit, they spend most of their time in burrows (95% of the year) and emerge only to warm themselves in the sun and seek out other species’ eggs, their primary diet. Because of their body composition (mostly fat), Gila monsters can live for a year on about 3-4 meals.
Symbolism of Gila Monster
There is much mythology and folklore about the Gila monster. I don’t wish to get into these stories, however, since they are not mine to own. I also think we do a disservice to the species who appear before us with something to say by consulting Madame Esoteric’s Guide to Animal Totems, or what have you.
The patterns of the Gila monster are especially intriguing. There is no mistaking these creatures, with their blazed orange and black – maybe a warning to stay away from them. I gather, though, that they stand out because they are animals of authenticity. There is no denying who they are. They are their authentic selves.
This asks a question…Am I being my true nature, or do I throw up a facade? Can I be this real, bold, and authentic in my life?
Gila monster is a master of survival, an original preservationist, as they can go without food for months. This species presents the lesson of living life within one’s means, of conserving resources and energy, whether that be your time, emotional or mental health, or finances.
Am I guarding my health, resources, emotions? Or am I releasing them foolishly, without thought of the future?
This elusive monster spends the majority of their time underground. Guarded from the intensity of the summer months and possible predators, Gila monsters show us that going under is life-preserving. Burrowing beneath the earth, there is power in finding respite, a place to dream and emerge stronger. Gila monster tells us to pay attention to our dreams and to find shelter, whether it is within one’s body or the physical world.
In my own interpretation of the Gila monster, I am called to heed the warning of giving too freely of my resources. I should focus on my true nature and what I am called to do. To keep my decisions on a critical plane, where all options are before me.
Walking with Gila monster is a call to watch my ass. Where am I in danger, or at risk of losing what I need to survive? It’s not a cry of paranoia, but one of good sense and self-protection.
I adore this amazing species, who has grown on me over the past few years. The Gila monster is an emblem of home, the Sonoran desert. A slow pace and careful judgement are how you survive in a tough terrain of limited food, water, and cool shelter. Gila monster is the god of true survival, where only those who are deliberate in action and purpose thrive.