Venom vs Poison vs Toxins: What's the Difference?

Posted by Stacey Venzel
Tontantravel/Flickr

Does a snake have venom, toxin, or poison? How about a bee? Are spiders venomous or poisonous?

Have you ever confused the terms toxic, poisonous, and venomous? You're not alone. Toxin, poison, and venom are similar with only slight differences that distinguish them from one another. But it is worth noting that they are not synonyms.

Venom vs Poison

Both poison and venom are toxins because a toxin simply describes a biologically produced chemical that alters the normal function of another organism. There is one quick way to remind you of the difference between poison and venom: If you bite it and you die, it's poison. If it bites you and you die, it's venom.

Venomous

But that doesn't really help if you are on the wrong end of the receiving line!

Poison and venom are unique in their method of delivery. Poison is secreted, making ingestion or touch a requirement of the negative--poisonous--consequences. This is why people are said to get food poisoning, not food venoming. On the other hand, venom is injected, such as by some snake bites or jellyfish stings.

Venomous

How venoms and poisons work

Once the biologically produced poison or venom enters an infected individual's bloodstream, the effects are the same, and both travel along pathways that target vital organs, like the heart and brain. Because of this, strong venom and poison can kill in an instant.

What pets have venom? Snakes, spiders, and scorpions are included in this category along with bees. Even some exotic fish and newts have spines that inject venom!

Venomous

Poison dart frogs, a unique addition to the exotic home vivarium, are well-known poisonous animals, secreting dangerous chemicals through their skin. However, the poison is made from their native diet of regionally-specific ants, so, without this ant diet, these amphibians can lose their poisonous nature in captivity. Pufferfish also contain a toxin that is lethally poisonous to humans.

Snake bites, poison, and venom

If you've just been bitten by a snake, you probably won't be running through this differentiation trying to figure out if it was a venomous bite or poison. But at least you'll have a little trivia to share the next time you know someone who gets food poisoning! We just hope that someone isn't you.

Which snake species are non-venomous snakes and which are poisonous snakes? That's the big question!

Garter snakes are almost harmless. The deadliest snakes are pit vipers, black mamba, coral snake, and sea snakes. King snakes eat other venomous snakes and venomous animals!

Did you learn something here? Tell us in the comments below. 

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Venom vs Poison vs Toxins: What's the Difference?