Venomous Lizards: US Man Dies After Pet Gila Monster Bit Him

A man in Denver, Colorado has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster, according to Lakewood City officials.

Thirty-four-year-old Christopher Ward owned two Gila monsters (Heloderma suspectum) named Winston and Potato despite the venomous lizards being illegal in the state of Colorado, according to a police report seen by AP

On February 12, Winston bit Ward and latched onto his hand. Ward soon began exhibiting symptoms including vomiting, before he passed out and stopped breathing. Ward’s girlfriend dialed 911 and he was rushed to hospital, where he was placed on life support. On February 16, he was declared dead.

Gila monsters, which can grow to up to around 56 centimeters (22 inches) in length, are one of very few venomous lizards on Earth. When threatened, they can bite in order to immobilize their prey. Venom is delivered not through hollow fangs, as in venomous snakes, but through grooved teeth. 


To deliver more venom, the lizards can clamp their jaws down on potential attackers for over 10 minutes.

“Two types of helodermatid bites produce distinct clinical pictures,” one case report explains. “The chewing bite potentially causes more envenomation than the slashing bite. The venom contains a number of protein and nonprotein components including serotonin, a bradykinin-releasing substance, protease, hyaluronidase, helodermin, and gilatoxin. The clinical presentation of a helodermatid bite can include pain, edema, hypotension, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and diaphoresis.”

No antivenom has been developed to the bites, though generally they are not fatal to humans. The animals, illegal to own as pets in Colorado but allowed in other US states, have reportedly now been taken into care by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources, with plans to rehome them in an animal park in South Dakota. 

First, however, they will head to the University of Northern Colorado, where researchers will extract venom in order to further investigate Ward’s death. The Jefferson County coroner’s office has not yet confirmed the cause of death, and is awaiting further toxicology reports.

[H/T: CNN]

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