Colorado man bitten by pet Gila monster dead days later

File image of a Gila Monster, Saguaro National Park, Arizona. Getty Images

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster

The bite happened on Feb. 12 when the man’s girlfriend heard something that "didn't sound right" coming from the other room. She went to check and saw the lizard latched onto the hand of 34-year-old Christopher Ward, according to a report from local animal control.

She told the Lakewood Police Department that Ward "immediately began exhibiting symptoms, vomiting several times and eventually passing out and ceasing to breathe," the report said.

Ward was placed on life support in a hospital. Within days, doctors had declared him brain dead.

Ward’s girlfriend handed over the lizard named Winston and another named Potato to Lakewood animal control the day after the bite.

Ward's girlfriend reportedly told officers they bought Winston at a reptile exhibition in Denver in October and Potato from a breeder in Arizona in November, according to the animal control officer's report. Told that Gila monsters were illegal in Lakewood, a suburb of Denver, the woman told officers she wanted them out of her house as soon as possible, the report said.

Officers working with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources sent the lizards to Reptile Gardens outside Rapid City, South Dakota. 

Twenty-six spiders of different species also were taken from the home to a nearby animal shelter.

What are Gila monsters?

The Gila monster is the largest lizard found in the United States, according to the National Park Service.

It can grow up to about 22 inches long and weigh about a pound, and is known for its bead-like scales in pink, orange, salmon or yellowish color patterns.

The carnivores live in the desert and spend most of their time underground. They’re found primarily in Arizona and Mexico, but can also be found in the extreme southeastern corner of California, the southern tip of Nevada, and the southwestern corners of Utah and New Mexico.

Gila monster bite

The Gila monster is one of only a few venomous lizards in the world. 

Gila monster venom is about as toxic as that of a western diamondback rattlesnake, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo

When Gila monsters bite, which is rare, a relatively small amount of venom is introduced from the lower jaw. But the lizard is known to latch on for a longer period of time and begin to "chew" as to introduce more venom. 

It’s unclear how long the pet Gila monster was latched on for when it bit Ward. 

NPS says a reasonably healthy adult will probably not be killed by a bite, but young children and people with other medical concerns might be vulnerable.

The local coroner declined to comment to The Associated Press about Ward’s death, including whether tests showed if Ward died from the pet's venom or from some other medical condition.

This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.