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San Bernardino NWR CompletesTenth Year of Gila Monster Monitoring in Cochise County
Southwest Region, November 15, 2009
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One of the less friendly Gila monsters captured this year.  Photo by Chris Lohrengel, taken 8/10/2009, San Bernardino NWR, Cochise Co., AZ
One of the less friendly Gila monsters captured this year. Photo by Chris Lohrengel, taken 8/10/2009, San Bernardino NWR, Cochise Co., AZ - Photo Credit: n/a

Gila monsters occur in portions of Sonora and Sinaloa in the Republic of Mexico, and in portions of Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Utah in the United States.  These large, venomous lizards appear to be rather uncommon throughout their range, but their exact population status is complicated by the fact that they spend most of their lives underground and very little of their time actively moving through their preferred upland habitat.  Gila monsters are protected by state law, and may not be collected.  However, because they are unique, attractive, and easy to maintain in captivity, they are a target for poachers who sell them through the black market. 

Gila monsters in Cochise County have been opportunistically studied by refuge staff since 2000.  When an individual is encountered, it is temporarily abducted, measured, weighed, sexed, photographed, pit-tagged to allow individual identification, and then released at the same site.  Capture sites are recorded and mapped.  Recaptured lizards provide growth and general health information, and can provide information regarding habitat use, individual movement, and home range size.  Such basic population ecology information can easily and economically be gathered by all refuge staff, and the information will ultimately help wildlife managers make more informed decisions regarding this species.  In addition, pit-tagging individuals have the potential to assist with law enforcement investigations involving illegal take, transport, or trade. 

This year staff and volunteers captured a total of 40 individuals, 12 of which were recaptures.  That brings the total to 123 different monsters, for a total of 158 individuals including recaptures that have been captured and "processed" by refuge staff between 2000 and 2009.


Contact Info: Christopher Lohrengel, 520-364-2104 x.106, chris_lohrengel@fws.gov



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