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Billy Joe Jim Bob replaces Sluggo

KINGMAN ­ The Kingman field office of the Bureau of Land Management has a new resident that will greet visitors with a flicking tongue.

In March, the office received a Gila monster from the Arizona Department of Game & Fish. The new addition replaces Sluggo, another Gila monster the BLM kept for 20 years before old age and a respiratory infection led to his death at an estimated age of 25 on Aug. 30, 2004.

"I had contacted Game & Fish after Sluggo died and said we'd like to have another Gila monster," said Rebecca Peck, wildlife biologist with the Kingman office of the BLM.

"Somebody had been collecting Gila monsters and had several kept in their bathtub, so we were able to get one (after Game & Fish seized the protected reptiles)."

Gila monsters can live up to 30 years in captivity. They are one of only two venomous lizards (the other is the Mexican beaded lizard) in the world, Peck added.

A contest was held to name the animal and about 50 suggestions were received during the Kingman Regional Medical Center Health & Safety Fair on May 7, said Cindy Miller, public contact representative with the BLM.

Max, Digger and Stripes were among the names submitted by children. The BLM staff of about 45 employees sat down to consider and vote on the suggestions, and the consensus choice was Billy Joe Jim Bob submitted by Haley Moon, 12, Miller said.

She received a $10 gift certificate to Wal-Mart, a BLM volunteer T-shirt and an Arizona BLM tote bag as prizes.

In the wild, a Gila monster's diet includes bird eggs, young birds and baby rodents. Peck and Miller feed Billy Joe Jim Bob chicken eggs with bone meal and vitamins added that he laps up like a cat, plus live newborn mice.

Sluggo proved to be a great teaching tool. He was often taken in a traveling cage to local schools when children were learning about reptiles and their roles in the environment.

The education mission continues with Billy Joe Jim Bob. He already has been to the KRMC Health & Safety Fair, Earthwise celebration at Mohave Community College, the Arizona Department of Game & Fish Department's Region III Wildlife Fair held April 7 at Kingman Academy of Learning High School, science program at Kingman High School South, presentation to a public-speaking class at MCC and end-of-year Field Day at KAOL Intermediate School.

Billy Joe Jim Bob is kept in a plywood cage with a tempered glass window in the front door that lowers. The enclosure measures 3 feet by 3 feet, and the floor is covered with bark shavings.

"Gila monsters are mainly found around Mohave County in the Hualapai and Cerbat mountains," Peck said.

"They're active on days when it's not hot and at night. But they spend most of their time underground, so they're seldom seen."

While not considered endangered, Arizona law forbids the killing of a Gila monster or keeping of one unless a permit to do so is issued by the Department of Game & Fish.

Gila monsters are slow moving reptiles and normally will bite only when disturbed. They never pursue anyone, Peck said.

"In looking at statistics from 2000, it was reported that there were 13 Gila monster bites in Arizona," she said. "Seven were to dogs, one was a cow, and five humans were bitten.

"Most of the bites were due to handling of the animal."

The BLM office on Hualapai Mountain Road also keeps several other reptiles. They include a western diamondback rattlesnake, Mohave green rattlesnake, speckled rattlesnake, common king snake and gopher snake.

A desert hairy scorpion wandered into the building last October and also was kept, Miller said. It subsists on live crickets.