NIGHT OF THE GILA MONSTER

The sign in the window reads “Deadly Reptile Loose at Night.” In the cool, dark office of Marshall Motors, the creature flashes a bright-pink tongue and yawns, revealing tiny, lethal teeth. A Gila monster.

But don’t blame Thorn Marshall. He wanted a snake.

When Marshall opened his car-repair shop last year, he searched for cheap nighttime security. “I figured that something around 10-feet long – a boa or a python – would be nice. But everyone wanted $300 to $400 for one of those little beasties.”

A West Texas reptile dealer sold him the Gila monster for $35. “He told me it would definitely go after somebody,” Marshall says. “In fact, the guy put it on the floor, and it immediately went for my wife. I figured if it was gruesome-looking enough, it would do the job.”

It seems to work. Marshall says the number of tools missing from his Inwood Road business has decreased since the Gila monster, named Nightstalker, has been around, and requests to “borrow things” have dwindled. “He’s been well worth the money,” Marshall says.

The Dallas car-repair shop is an unlikely home for the big lizard. Gila monsters are native to Arizona and Mexico, says David Barker, of the herpetology department at the Dallas Zoo. They form one of the two known species of poisonous lizards. Like many desert reptiles, they arc carnivorous and eat mice and nestling birds, but Baker says they’ll eat just about anything. They can consume their prey live or immediately after they kill it with poison that is injected via tiny fangs in the lower jaw. Barker says Gila monsters have an “inefficient venom delivery. While the venom is very toxic and some fatalities are known, many people recover completely with no problem.”

Marshall feeds Nightstalk-er three live mice a week and plans to start a mouse farm to raise his own lizard food.

Although he says he has never lost any business because of his pet, occasionally he has to keep customers waiting while he catches the lizard under the neck with a hooked pole and drops it back into the cage.

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