Lizard with Toxic Breath - Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum)
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Lizard with Toxic Breath – Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum)

Heloderma suspectum

Magnification: 13:1

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Hand-colored scanning electron micrograph of the lower jaw of a Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum), by Martin Oeggerli.

In the Old West, the pioneers believed a number of myths about the Gila monster, including that the lizard had foul or toxic breath and that its bite was fatal. The venomous compounds of the Gila monster are potentially fatal. The lizward deliver their venom by a firm bite and chewing movements with their jaws into the wound. The third to the sixth pair of dentaries (counting from the back) of the lower jaw are equipped with deep grooves and specially shaped to assist in the penetration and increased delivery of venom. The grooves are sustained with venom through small drain ducts, which exit next to the grooved teeth. The venom produces considerable pain and metabolic disorders (blood pressure failure). The potency of the Heloderma venom is believed to be similar to the venom of the Western Diamond Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox).

Exenatide (Exendin-4) is a bioactive peptide identified in the Gila monster venom, that is manufactured now synthetically in large quantities. It serves the treatment of diabetes-type-II (adult-onset diabetes). Type-II patients have difficulty to adjust to physiological glucose levels. Exenatide acts with a different mechanism on the insulin output of the pancreas. This makes type-II patients accessible to therapy. For more information about the biochemistry of Heloderman venom read D. Mebs (Gifttiere 2000; Wissenschaftliche Verlagsges. 2. Auflage, neu bearb. 248-250).