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Posted by Marty on May 30, 2002 at 16:50:23:
Saw this statement below under a post by Jeff. "Gila's show no fear of humans or anything else."
Some questions for you to ask yourself and my feelings on the subject.
1. Is this statement accurate? NO!
2. Do adult Gilas react differently to a threat than young or neonatal Gilas? Possibly, but when it comes the behavours I'll discuss below, all age groups have been observed engaging in those behavours.
3. Is fear warranted in Gila monsters and why? Adult Gilas likely have few predators and there have only been a few reported cases of predation on adult monsters. But, they do have predators. Young Gilas certainly have more predators than adults. So, for any animal that is aware of its surrounding and has concerns about ending up as food for another, doesn't it make sense to have a "fear" of being eaten?
3. How can a human judge fear in a Gila monster? Judging fear in animals is difficult and that "fear" may not be analogous to fear in humans. People have the tendency to use anthropomorphisms in order to help understand (from a non-scietific perspective) the behavour of animals. While this tendency doesn't always lead to an accurate interpretation it can be useful in some cases.
A person approaches another person. The person who is being approached backs away. Why? Fear, or unsurity of the intent?
A person approaches a Gila monster in the wild. The Gila monster backs away. Why? Fear, or unsurity of the intent?
Add to the above a typical behavour of Gila monsters - gaping and hissing as they back away while keeping their open mouth directed at the threat. Clearly, this is a defensive behavour. If Gilas showed no fear of humans or anything else, wouldn't they go about their business without going into such defensive displays?
Add to the above another behavour of Gilas. Fleeing when they see a person. This is practiced mostly when found out in the open. If in brush or some sort of other cover Gilas generally freeze and rely on their crypsis. Again, if Gilas showed no fear of humans or anything else, why flee or freeze instead of continuing with their business as if a person weren't there?
Add to the above a visually unobservable but detectable physiological reaction - stress. An animal which has no fear could be expected to show no stress. This isn't the case with Gila monsters. When wild Gila mosters are handled stress homone levels elevate.
So, do Gilas show fear of humans? Based on observable behavours and physiology I think most of us would conclude they do. But, do Gilas show fear of anything else? Since the behavours that we can witness have develpoed over a long period of time and are not specific to humans, and the purpose of such behavour is to avoid elevated conflict with a predator and the potential for becoming a meal, it only seems logical that Gilas "fear" for their safety when confronted with a threat that could turn them into a meal.