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Discovery Magazine 4/1/2011

The Gila Monster

Growing up in the Arizona desert made me very aware of an amazing creature that many people seemed to view with mystery and superstition: the Gila (pronounced HEE-luh) Monster. This reptile lives in the Mojave (mo-HAH-vee), Sonoran (suh-NOR-un), and Chihuahuan (chee-WAH-won) deserts. It is the largest lizard native to the U.S. and can be found in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It was rare to see Gila Monsters out in the open, since they tend to stay hidden under rocks, in burrows of other animals, and in holes they dig for themselves. In fact, more than 99% of the Gila’s life is spent inactive and underground.

These striking, even eerie, lizards have short limbs and a stout, elongated body that grows up to two feet long. Its face is black, and its body has black, orange, pink, or yellow broken blotches, bars, and spots, with bands extending onto its blunt tail. Its skin consists of small, rounded, raised, bead-like scales. Embedded within the scales are osteoderms (AH-stee-o-derms), small boney plates, apparently just like the protective “bony skin” that was fairly common in dinosaurs. Gilas are one of the few living reptiles that are covered with this type of armor.

While Gila Monsters tend to move very slowly, they have strong jaws that latch onto prey, making it difficult to get them to turn loose. Their teeth have two grooves that serve as channels through which venom passes from glands in the lower jaw. Since the Gila Monster’s nerve-toxin venom is not injected like that of the snake, this reptile must chew on its victim to allow the venom to flow into the wound. The toxin overpowers the animals it attacks. Such venomous poison could not have evolved! It had to have been created by the Creator who equipped the Gila Monster with both the ability to produce the venom as well as a way to inject it into its prey.

During the summer, the Gila Monster feeds at night on small mammals, birds, and eggs. God designed Gila monsters to eat as few as four (large) meals each year. So, during the winter, a Gila depends on large amounts of fat stored in its specially designed tail and abdomen. Since God planned for these creatures to specialize in feeding on the young and eggs, He made their main active period match the availability of their primary food source—quail and desert cottontail that nest during the Spring months of April and May.

Scientists have learned another amazing thing about Gila Monsters that shows they were created by God. Right after eating, a hormone-like molecule called Exendin-4 comes into the Gila’s saliva and circulates in the Gila’s blood, preparing it to receive incoming nutrients. This chemical in the Gila’s spit “wakes up” the pancreas and causes important body functions to occur. Unlike most other hypoglycaemic (hi-poe-gly-SEE-mic) medicines which only do one thing (control blood sugar), Exendin-4 does several things: it causes the release of insulin, lowers blood glucose produced by the liver, and slows the emptying of the stomach, decreasing appetite and helping with weight loss. This discovery is very important for people who have diabetes. Chemists have developed a manmade version of the chemical found in the Gila Monster’s saliva that is now being used to treat diabetes.

Can you believe it? Intelligent scientists turn to God’s specially designed animals to copy their amazing characteristics in order to help people. Since God is the Creator, since He specifically designed all of His creatures, and since animals did not come into being through evolution, it follows that we humans have much to learn about God’s designs that can be beneficial for solving many problems. Listen to the wise Solomon and Isaiah: “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28).



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