Gila Monsters
Field Site

Team DeNardo

Christian Wright

M.A.Ed. Secondary Education. 2008. University of Phoenix at Phoenix.

B.S. Cum Laude. 2006. Denison University at Granville.


Research Interests

My current research interests focus on examining foraging strategies and mechanisms driving foraging behavior in the Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum.


Current Work

I am examining the broad applicability of and mechanism driving State Dependent Foraging (SDF) strategies as well as the interaction between physiological state and foraging in adult Gila monsters. Although SDF is well studied, particularly in species with high energy intake and expenditure (i.e., high-energy systems), studies of the applicability of SDF theory to low-energy, infrequently feeding systems, are more limited. Such organisms are particularly valuable to understanding SDF, because their low energy demands coupled with extensive reliance on energy reserves may mean that their foraging decisions are predominantly driven by physiological factors other than energy state (e.g., hydration state). Gila monsters predominantly reside in the Sonoran Desert and consequently must endure no free-water, limited food availability, and considerable thermal challenges during the hot, dry season. Gila monsters can tolerate wide fluctuations in their hydration state (much greater than humans!) and, to cope with these challenging conditions, Gila monsters dramatically reduce their activity and also use their urinary bladder as a reservoir to reduce the impact of limited water availability. Additionally, they exclusively feed on the contents of vertebrate nests (e.g., eggs and pups), a resource that is seasonal and widely dispersed. Although it is known that Gila monsters rely on energy stores (e.g., fat) to cope with temporal limitation in food availability and that they must search widely for their prey, there is a lack of information on the responses they exhibit to variation in food availability and the interaction between their physiology and their foraging decisions.

To address these questions, I am determining the correlates between energy and hydration state and activity in free-ranging Gila monsters as well as evaluating the acute and chronic impacts of meal consumption on the foraging behavior and physiology (i.e., hydration state, energy reserves, energy expenditure) of free-ranging Gila monsters. Additionally, I am examining the energetic and hydric consequences of foraging and meal acquisition so as to link meal consumption and foraging with physiological state. To quantify the energetic consequences of foraging, I will measure the energetic cost of foraging and meal consumption in free-ranging Gila monsters. To determine the hydric consequences of foraging, I am assessing how meal consumption influences water balance in Gila monsters as well as quantifying the water budget of meal digestion in Gila monsters.


Past Research

During my undergraduate career at Denison University, I conducted research under Dr. Rebecca Homan, ultimately completing my senior thesis which examined correlates between upland/wetland characteristics and the distribution of various life stages of spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) in a vernal breeding pond and its surrounding terrestrial habitat. Additionally, I worked with Dr. Geoffrey Smith as part of a team assessing the effects of varying ecologically relevant levels of ammonium nitrate on the development, survivorship, and predator avoidance of wood frog (Rana sylvatica) tadpoles. Post-baccalaureate, I worked as a secondary science instructor (2006-2008) at a high school in Phoenix, Arizona, as part of a program called Teach For America (TFA), a non-profit organization dedicated to closing the achievement gap between students of low socioeconomic status and their more affluent peers.



Burgett, A.A., C.D. Wright, G.R. Smith, D.T. Fortune, and S.L. Johnson. (2007) Impact of ammonium nitrate on Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) tadpoles: Effects on survivorship and behavior. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 2(1): 29-24.


Homan, R.N., C.D. Wright, G. W. White, L.F. Michael, B. S. Slaby, and S.E. Edwards. (2008) Multiyear study of the migration orientation of Ambystoma maculatum (Spotted Salamanders) among varying terrestrial habitats. Journal of Herpetology 42(4): 600-607.



Wright, C.D., K. Moeller, and D.F. DeNardo. 2012. Do low energy systems practice State-Dependent Foraging Strategies? Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Annual Meeting, Charleston, SC.

Wright, C.D. 2011. Preparing students for success in college science courses and beyond. Tolleson Union High School District Professional Development Meeting, Glendale, AZ.

Wright, C.D., M.Jackson, and D.F. DeNardo. 2011. Examining the chronic and acute impacts of food intake on hydration state in the Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum. Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Annual Meeting, Salt Lake City, UT.


Homan, R.N., C.D. Wright, L.F. Michael, and S.A. Edwards. 2007. Distribution of Ambystoma maculatum among different habitat types surrounding a single breeding pond. 92nd Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America.


Homan, R.N., C. Wright, and D. Walker. 2006. Correlates of location and movement of Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) in the breeding pond. Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.


Wright, C. and R.N. Homan. 2006. Demographic correlates between upland and wetland usage in a breeding population of Ambystoma maculatum (Spotted Salamanders). Ohio Academy of Sciences Meeting.

Email christian.wright@asu.edu

Christian's CV

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