The Gila monster, a venomous and slow-moving lizard native to the Southwestern United States, could be joining the Rocky Mountain elk, the California gull, the Bonneville cutthroat trout and the Dutch oven as an official symbol of the state of Utah — if some seventh-grade students get their say.
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, is sponsoring legislation that would designate the Gila monster as Utah’s state reptile. He said the idea was brought to him by students at Lava Ridge Intermediate School, who plan to lobby legislators on the change through letters and presentations on Capitol Hill.
“They’re working on it as a science project and also getting instruction from me on civics,” Snow said. “I think any time we can encourage students one-on-one in learning the process and having a hand in it is incredibly valuable.”
Student-backed designations of state symbols have become something of a tradition during the annual legislative session, with varying results. In 2014, lawmakers replaced the Colorado blue spruce with the quaking aspen as Utah’s state tree at the urging of Monroe Elementary. But the next year, a Daybreak Elementary-backed bill to name the golden retriever as Utah’s state dog fell short of becoming law.
The 2011 designation of the Browning M1911 as the official state gun was one symbol not pushed by students.
Rachel Robbins, an English teacher at Lava Ridge, in Santa Clara, said she and colleagues worked with the students to study the Gila monster and Utah’s state symbols. Several other states have designated an official reptile, she said, but Utah had not yet made that distinction.
“The kids got really excited to think that a southern Utah reptile might be able to have that designation from the state,” she said. “They’ve been able to do a lot of interviews and research. It’s been really cool.”
While the Gila monster’s native habitat includes Utah, the animal’s natural range in the state is effectively limited to Washington County. And even there, Snow said, sightings have become increasingly uncommon.
“We used to see them more than we do now," he said.
But Robbins said the Gila monster’s low profile is instinctive, with the animals typically staying out of sight.
“They’re very reclusive by nature; it’s how they survive,” she said. “If you see a Gila monster, you get bragging rights in southern Utah.”
The proposal will be in competition with hundreds of other bills during the relatively brief 45-day session, which begins Jan. 28.
Snow said he’s happy to be working with the children in his district on the project, while acknowledging that naming a state reptile may not be the highest priority among his colleagues or that the Gila monster may not be the consensus choice for that honor.
“I’ve heard from a few folks who think it ought to be the desert tortoise,” Snow said.
Other Utah state symbols:
• State animal — Rocky Mountain elk.
• State astronomical symbol (constellation) — The Beehive Cluster.
• State bird — California gull.
• State cooking pot — Dutch oven.
• State fish — Bonneville cutthroat trout.
• State flower — Sego lily.
• State dance — Square dance.
• State firearm — Browning M1911.
• State fossil — Allosaurus.
• State fruit — Cherry.
• State gem — Topaz.
• State grass — Indian ricegrass.
• State insect — Honey bee.
• State mineral — Copper.
• State rock — Coal.
• State star — Dubhe.
• State tree — Quaking aspen.
• State vegetable — Spanish sweet onion.
• State historic vegetable — Sugar beet.