What is the Difference Between Toxin, Venom, and Poison?

Posted by Stacey Venzel
Tontantravel/Flickr

Does a snake have venom, toxin, or poison? How about a bee?

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.

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.

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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 with the bite or sting of an animal.

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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!

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Poison dart frogs, a unique addition to the exotic home vivarium, are well-known poison culprits, 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.

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 venom 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.

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

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What is the Difference Between Toxin, Venom, and Poison?