Colorado man dies after his pet gila monster bites him — an extremely unusual reaction

Gila monsters are large, venomous lizards whose bite is known to be extremely painful but never fatal. But this wasn't the case for a 34-year-old Colorado man, who was bitten by one of his two pet gila monsters on February 12th.

The man, who also kept pet tarantulas, was rushed to a local hospital in Lakewood just before midnight after his juvenile reptile, about 12 inches long, bit him. Four days later — on the Friday of President's Day weekend — he died.

"The vast majority of bites cause local swelling and bleeding," said medical toxicologist Dr. Nick Brandehoff about gila monsters, via CBS News. But deaths from a bite just don't happen. "The last case I have been able to find…was 1930 and that was not even a medical journal case."

And while National Geographic says that there has never been a reported case of a fatal gila monster bite, Brandehoff wonders if the man's death was triggered by an allergic reaction.

From CBS:

The Jefferson County Coroner's Office confirmed the death, saying an autopsy was performed on the bite victim but the precise cause of death won't be known until additional toxicology testing is completed.

Eric Harper, a criminal investigator with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said CPW was asked to remove the Gila monsters from the home after the bite. He told CBS News Colorado it is illegal to own Gila monsters in Colorado without a license. 

Harper said the Lakewood incident may be an anomaly, but it shows "venomous reptiles are hazardous and should only be handled or possessed by people with the proper training."

Harper and Brandehoff both said the reptile that bit its owner will be transported this week to a lab in Greeley at the University of Northern Colorado, where its venom will be extracted and studied to bring a greater understanding as to why its bite led to its owner's death.

The CBS article also says the two gila monsters have been placed in a wildlife rehab center.