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Gila monster that bit owner before his death back in Colorado

Gila monster that bit owner before his death back in Colorado
Gila monster that bit owner before his death back in Colorado 02:52

A Gila monster that bit its owner in Lakewood on Feb. 12, leading to the man's death, was returned to Colorado this week and sent to a lab in Greeley on Thursday for testing on the reptile's venom.

"That's a very unusual consequence of a Gila monster bite," said Stephen Mackessy, a biology professor at the University of Northern Colorado. 

Mackessy will lead efforts to extract venom from the reptile, then study the venom to see if it offers any clues as to why the 34-year-old owner died.

"We'll see if the venom has anything different in it from a typical Gila monster's venom that might explain some of the effects and why this man had such severe compromise of his life functions so rapidly," said Mackessy.


According to a Lakewood animal control report, officers were called to a home on South Holland Street on Feb. 12 just before midnight after a woman called to report her boyfriend had been bitten by one of his two Gila monsters and was having a reaction. 

The woman said the reptile had bitten her boyfriend on the hand and "he immediately began exhibiting symptoms, vomiting several times and eventually passing out and ceasing to breathe." He was hospitalized but died four days later.

The Gila monster named "Winston" was initially transported to a reptile facility in South Dakota, but was brought to the Greeley lab Thursday so its venom could be extracted and studied.

As the lizard was removed from the box it was transported in, Mackessy said it appeared to be "in really good condition." The extraction of venom took place Friday, according to Mackessy.

Mackessy said Gila monster bites happen often, but deaths resulting from them do not. The last reported death from a Gila monster bite was in 1930.

Mackessy said Gila monsters produce toxins that are made out of proteins, which is what will be extracted, then studied.


He said the process of analyzing the venom should take one to two weeks. 

The Jefferson County Coroner's Office initially reported doing an autopsy on the bite victim but personnel in the office said the precise cause of death would not be known until toxicology testing was completed.

While Mackessy said there are many questions about what led to the man's death, he said "it certainly sounds like there was some aspect of allergic reaction. This was a horrible situation." 

The biology professor went on to say people should not use this rare case to malign or kill Gila monsters or rattlesnakes.

"They're not out there waiting for humans to bite them. They're out there as part of various ecosystems and they're an important component and the Gila monster has their place too," he said. 

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