Little monster moves into Melbourne Zoo’s historic reptile house
A new resident is bringing a splash of colour to Melbourne Zoo’s 52-year-old reptile house.
The bright orange-and-black juvenile Gila (pronounced heel-a) monster is now big enough to venture out on its own after being born last year as part of a regional captive breeding program – the first born at Melbourne Zoo since 2008.
Melbourne Zoo Ectotherms keeper Jayden White said the young lizard had been developing steadily.
“Since hatching, it’s been a fairly hands-off process,” Mr White said. “Most lizards are self-sufficient from birth. When they are younger, we monitor their weight and body condition quite a bit to make sure they are growing well.
“However, we don’t want them to grow too fast and put on any unnecessary fat deposits. It’s a slow and steady process to maintain their ideal weight and body condition.”
As an ectothermic species, Gila monsters rely on the sun and their environment to regulate their body temperature, so the zoo’s three adult Gila monsters will spend winter behind the scenes in a brumation state to replicate the conditions adults would experience in the wild.
In cold weather, they enter a pseudo-hibernation state where they become dormant, and their metabolism slows.
Mr White said the brumation cycle was important for sexually mature adults to successfully breed future clutches, which would help the zoo secure a future for the incredible lizards.
Gila monsters are a large lizard species endemic to North America’s south-west and north-west Central America. The species is primarily black with a mottling of yellow-to-pink markings and are one of only two species of venomous lizards. This variation in colour allows the slow-moving reptile to camouflage among arid and rocky landscapes.
Wild Gila monster populations are declining due to habitat destruction and the illegal wildlife trade. They were the first venomous species to receive legal protection in North America. Melbourne Zoo’s Reptile House opened in October 1969 and is now home to more than 50 different species of snakes, crocodiles, lizards, turtles, and frogs from across Australia and around the world.
In recent years, the Reptile House has undergone major structural and digital redevelopments that has enhanced visitor experience, back-of-house breeding, and housing facilities, and seen the successful hatching of many different species, such as Eastern Diamond Rattlesnakes, Boyd’s Forest Dragons and the critically endangered Grassland Earless Dragon.
Zoos Victoria members and Melbourne Zoo visitors are reminded that all tickets must be pre-booked online at zoo.org.au •