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Bites from the two species of venomous lizards (the gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, of the southwestern United States and the Mexican beaded lizard, Heloderma horridum) are infrequent and usually follow attempts to capture or handle these creatures. The wounds are characterized by soft tissue trauma with surrounding local edema and occasionally local cyanosis and ecchymosis. Broken teeth may be embedded in the wounds. The venom contains proteases and phospholipases, and systemic effects may include hypotension, weakness, dizziness, and diaphoresis.
First-aid measures for these bites best follow the guidelines listed above for viperid bites. If the biting lizard is still attached to the victim, mechanical opening of its jaws may be required for its removal.
The sparseness of the data on the pathophysiologic effects of helodermatid venom precludes specific recommendations regarding laboratory evaluation, but routine studies (complete blood count, coagulation studies, electrolyte analysis, blood typing and cross-matching, urinalysis, and electrocardiography) are prudent in anything other than a trivial envenomation. Wounds should be cleansed thoroughly and irrigated when possible. Tetanus immunization should be updated as indicated. Soft tissue radiography of the bite site and sterile probing under local anesthesia may identify retained teeth. An extremity should be splinted and elevated, but antibiotic treatment is not usually required. Systemic care is supportive (e.g., use of intravenous normal saline or Ringer's lactate for hypotension). No commercial antivenin exists. Pain due to local venom effects and mechanical trauma can be treated with opiates and regional nerve blocks. The mortality rate is extremely low.
It takes work to get bitten
The bite of the Gila Monster has been described as "bulldog-like", "crushing", "firm" and "tenacious". One expert reports that of 15 bites he was consulted about over a 20 year period, all but four were inflicted by captive specimens. Two of the four bites resulted from some very bad luck. In one case a motorcyclist fell off his bike and in attempting to break his fall put his hand in the mouth of a basking Gila Monster. Bad choice! The second bite involved a stunt pilot who after parachuting was dragged by his parachute onto one of these critters. Bad landing! Over a 15 year period, the author has had a "running" wash deposit Gila Monsters in his yard. In both cases, they slowly moved off.
Venom is defensive weapon
Unlike snakes, the venom glands of the Gila Monster are in the lower jaw. They do not have control over their venom. It is always injected instantaneously when it bites down with grooved and sharp-edged teeth in both jaws. The Gila's defensive bite does not deliver enough venom to be lethal. However, the venom contains substances that quickly cause excruciating pain. This weapon system is designed for defense rather than gathering food.
When the Mexican Beaded Lizard inflicts a vigorous bite, the victim goes through many stages. The first stage is the inability to sit or stand. The animal becomes drowsy and then experiences paralysis. Respiration becomes slow and labored until the heart exerts an increase of activity. The arterial pressure begins to take a great fall due to vascular dilation and the prey dies. Although the venom may have these effects on its small prey, bites are rarely fatal to humans in good health.
The Gila monster is a protected species.
Fearsome in appearance and deliberate in movement, the Gila monster and its Mexican cousin, the beaded lizard, are the only lizards that are poisonous. These docile, slow-moving creatures are unlikely to bite pets or people, and their venom delivery system is not as efficient as that of a snake. But once one of these lizards clamps on, prying it off can be very difficult. The longer he hangs on, the more venom will be injected into the victim. Venom is injected from glands within the lower jaw. The Gila monster is found in the desert regions of Arizona, western New Mexico, southeastern California and the southern tip of Nevada, the extreme southwest region of Utah and northwestern Mexico. The beaded lizard is only found in Mexico. The best way to avoid a bite from a poisonous lizard is to keep your pets from roaming. Because these species are found in desert conditions, it's unlikely your pet will encounter one, unless he's lost in the desert. Gila and beaded lizards are protected species. People who handle and house them should be properly trained. Indeed, the few bites reported each year are mostly from people who keep and handle captive specimens for research. What to Look For Watch for bleeding, swelling and extreme pain at the bite site. Other symptoms include: · Hypotension (low blood pressure) · Excessive salivation · Tearing from the eyes · Frequent urination · Defecation · Inability to vocalize Veterinary Care Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination, and may include electrocardiograms to detect arrhythmias and blood pressure readings to detect hypotension. However, the only definitive way to diagnose lizard venom toxicity is by actually witnessing the lizard biting the victim. Treatment includes removing the lizard if still attached to your pet. This can be done by either placing a flame under the lizard's jaw or prying open the mouth. Your veterinarian will flush and soak the bite wound, monitor and treat hypotension and/or arrhythmias and administer antibiotics to ward off infection.
The poison of Heloderma causes no local injury. It arrests the heart in diastole, the organ afterwards contracts slowly possibly in rapid rigor mortis.
The cardiac muscle loses its irritability to stimuli at the time it ceases to beat. The other muscles and verves respond to irritants.
The spinal cord has its power annihilated abruptly, and refuses to respond to the most powerful electrical currents.
This virulent heart poison contrasts strongly with serpent venom, since they give rise to local hemorrhages, causing death chiefly through failure of respiration and not by the heart unless given in overwhelming doses. They lower muscle and nerve reactions, especially those of the respiratory apparatus, but do not cause extreme and abrupt loss of spinal power. They also produce secondary pathological appearances absent in Heloderma poisoning.
The venom is a complex mixture of chemical substances including enzymes (see "Digestion" in the following section), toxic proteins, and other materials. The specific nature of the venom varies from one species to another. In a general way, venoms can be classified as nerve-affecting (neurotoxic) and blood-affecting (hemotoxic). Actually, venomous snakes contain both types of substances but usually have a preponderance of one or the other. There is some indication that the nerve-affecting type of venom is more efficient on the so-called cold-blooded animals and the blood-affecting type more efficient on mammals and birds, but actually both types can be highly efficient on either kind of prey.