Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
  Issue 6 July 2008
Mexican Beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum exasperatum)Bite In this Issue

By Steve Angeli and Robert Applegate

What follows is an actual first hand account of a bite from a juvenile beaded lizard.

I was feeding my juvenile beaded lizards (the animal that bit me hatched 2-25-00). They had mouse-tails hanging from their mouths. I went to move one of them, so I could change their water. One swung around and I was bitten on the right thumb. The animal hung on for 5 to 10 seconds, then released. I experienced extreme pain immediately, with swelling. The pain became excruciating within 5 minutes. At 10 minutes I took 3 Vicodine and some Ibuprophen (I had left over from a dental prescription). At 15 minutes the swelling in my hand, fingers and wrist increased. The pain and swelling was starting up my arm. Within 30 minutes after the bite the pain began to radiate up my arm into my armpit. I experienced no other symptoms in any other part of my body, and no systemic reaction. One and a half hours the swelling was increasing half way up the forearm and my hand was feeling like it was going to explode, pain killers helping.

Mexican bearded lizard (Heloderma horridum)

6-22 0800AM
Swelling all the way to elbow with pain in hand, arm, and armpit area. The pain was intense enough that I went to the Doctor. They never had a case of this sort, so I advised them to call Arizona Poison Control Center. My Doctor got some tape messages and finally got someone who knew something about the needed treatment (ED: AZ has Gila Monsters, with similar venom). They then told my Doctor if there was no systemic reaction (i.e. vomiting, dizziness, accelerated heart rate, etc) that he would probably only have to treat me for infection and pain. I was given Vicodine for pain, a tetanus shot, and two antibiotics (Augmentin-Amoxcillin and Clavolanic-Cipro) twice a day for 10 days. 5pm 6-22 Swelling starting to subside, still taking pain meds. 9pm swelling subsiding, but still at about 80%.

06/23/00 0800 AM
Decided to go to work. Swelling still at about 60%, stopped taking pain meds. 5pm swelling down to about 40%, but still very sensitive to the touch. Swelling seems worse at the top of the forearm, not so much at the thumb where bitten. 8pm swelling down to about 20%, area still sensitive to the touch. 10 pm swelling almost gone from hand, but still sensitive to the touch. Forearm still swollen. 10pm lifted weights at the gym until 11pm. Had numbness in right side of right hand, but worked out anyway.

06/24/00 0600AM
swelling mostly gone but top of hand and forearm still sensitive to the touch. 9PM swelling gone but still experiencing sensitivity on the top of my hand and forearm. Some periodic numbness on right side of hand and pinkie finger.

One week later the top of my hand and forearm still sensitive to the touch, but have been using my arm normally since 6-23 6-28 7-5 symptoms gone!

The foregoing has been an account of a bite, as told by Steve Angeli to Robert Applegate. It should be noted that this was a very small lizard of a species that grows to exceed 3 feet in length, and another individual may be more or less sensitive to the venom. Any bite from a Heloderma lizard should be considered a very serious medical emergency and medical treatment should be sought immediately. In no way are we condoning self prescribing medications, this is just an account of what really happened, not necessarily the recommended way it should have been taken care of.


Robert Applegate is the owner of Applegate Reptiles. Applegate Reptiles is known as a breeder of quality and rare reptiles for over twenty-five years . Thier name is on two strains of snakes - the Applegate Arizona Mountain Kingsnake and the Applegate San Diego Gopher Snake.

  1. Mexican Beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum exasperatum)Bite
  2. Oral Care in Reptiles and Amphibians
  3. In the News
  4. Tell Us What You Think
  5. Feedback and Updating

Other Issues

Other Articles & Resources

Oral Care in Reptiles and Amphibians

Holly Nash, DVM, MS
Veterinary Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.

Many oral diseases in reptiles and amphibians can be prevented through proper management. Poor husbandry leads to stress, which suppresses the body's immune system and makes the animal more susceptible to disease. By paying careful attention to the following aspects of your herp's care, you can help maintain his oral health.


Chronic poor nutrition, resulting in malnutrition, makes animals more prone to infections. Young crocodilians that are malnourished are more apt to have loose teeth that fall out easily. Mineral deficiencies such as nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (NSHP, metabolic bone disease) can result in abnormal formations of the jaw, which expose the moist membranes of the mouth making them more vulnerable to trauma and infection. In chameleons, hypocalcemia (low blood levels of calcium) and NSHP can result in paralysis of the tongue, and in extreme cases, necessitate its amputation. Scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) affects the soft tissues of the mouth and can lead to bleeding from the gums and loose teeth.

Animal density:

Overcrowding can lead to stress, and makes it more difficult to provide a clean environment and unpolluted food and water. Competition for food could result in trauma or malnutrition in those animals that may be smaller or weaker. Animals that are overcrowded may also make more attempts at escape, increasing the possibility of trauma to the nose or head. Lizards may be more apt to bite or chew at the cage, possibly fracturing teeth.

Bearded Dragon

Bearded Dragon


Large numbers of bacteria and fungal organisms in the environment can increase the risk of infections, especially in animals that are stressed from other causes. Cages and cage furniture should be cleaned and disinfected on a routine basis. Poor water quality is a common cause of oral problems in some species.


Environmental temperatures that are too cool can suppress the immune system, and also make it more difficult for a herp to digest his food. So even if a diet is optimal, if the herp cannot digest it, nutritional problems and increased susceptibility to disease can occur.


Poor air circulation, especially if there are other husbandry problems, can lead to overgrowth of bacteria and fungi in the environment.

Nontraumatic environment:

Trauma related to nose rubbing on the cage, screen, or landscaping can predispose to oral problems. Routinely check the environment for sharp edges or abrasive surfaces. Correct any overcrowding or positioning of the cage that would increase escape attempts with resulting trauma.

Prevention of other diseases:

Other diseases can be causes of stress and predispose an animal to oral problems. For example, mite infestations can cause anemia, spread bacteria, and be irritating, causing the animal to rub the areas where they are attached.

To prevent the transmission of disease, quarantine any additions to your herp collection to prevent the spread of herpes and pox-like viruses and other organisms that can cause oral disease.

Regular exams:

By regularly checking the head and mouth of your herp, you can help spot problems early, hopefully while they can be successfully treated without causing permanent damage. If you see a lesion or abnormality, have your pet examined by your veterinarian.

By reducing stress, maintaining the proper environment, providing good nutrition, and monitoring your herp regularly, you are well on your way to providing good oral care.

Reprinted with permission.


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