Physical characteristics

Helodermatid lizards are named after their distinctively textured skin, consisting of rounded, bony bumps (osteo-derms) on their dorsal surfaces. The name Heloderma is derived from the Greek for "studded skin." Their lumbering gait, thick forked tongues, robust skull architecture, and venom glands in the lower jaw give them a cumbersome appearance that some consider monsterlike. The body markings can be bright and colorful or faded and cryptic. Juveniles frequently have banded patterns, which break up with age into a variety of adult markings consisting of spots, blotches, or chainlike crossbands of black or yellow on a background of pink, orange, yellow, slate gray, or black. The limbs are rel

A Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) in Arizona, USA. (Photo by Joe McDonald. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

atively short and strong; the clawed feet are reminiscent of tiny human hands. Fat reserves are stored in the tail, which may be plump in well-fed individuals but is often quite thin in wild-caught lizards. Individuals range in size from barely 6 in (15 cm) total length (hatchling Gila monster) to up to 3.3 ft (1 m) for a large beaded lizard, which can weigh more than 4.4 lb (2 kg).

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