What’s the Distinction Among Venom, Poison and Toxins?

Poison Dart Frogs have a potent toxin. A single droplet of their deadly secretions can kill 20,000 mice or 10 adult humans.

On this planet, and primarily in Australia, there are numerous lethal creatures that can kill you in a single bite or sting, such as spiders, scorpions, snakes, and even snails.

When we refer to these animals as venomous or poisonous, what does that imply? What is the distinction between “venomous” and “poisonous”? And how does venom or poison differ from a toxin?

Well, let me break it down for you: if you bite it and you die, then it is poisonous. If it bites you and you die, it’s venomous. And toxins are lethal biological secretions from living organisms, meaning both venoms and poisons are toxins.

So, let’s dive a bit deeper.

What is Venom and What Makes a Creature Venomous?

For a venomous animal to deliver its lethal concoction of chemicals to you, it must bite you or deliver its chemicals in another manner, such as a sting in the case of a scorpion.

So, with a venomous creature, the delivery into the subject is an active delivery.

Let’s take a look at one of Australia’s most lethal snakes: The Inland Taipan or The Fear Snake.

The Inland Taipan is considered one of the most venomous snakes on the planet. A single drop of its venom is sufficient to kill 100 adult humans or 250,000 mice. It generally injects up to 110 milligrams of venom per bite.

If you’re looking for something more scientific to understand what venom is, then take this quote from the scientific journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution:

“[Venom is] A secretion, produced in a specialized gland in one animal and delivered to a target animal through the infliction of a wound ‘regardless of how tiny it could be,’ which contains molecules that disrupt normal physiological or biochemical processes so as to facilitate feeding or defense by the producing animal.”

That’s the literal textbook definition of venom, and it explains what would happen if you were bitten by a venomous creature.

But what if you consumed a venomous creature like the Inland Taipan?

Well, I can’t guarantee it would taste good, nor can I guarantee getting hold of one would be easy given they’re some of the shyest snakes out there, but would eating it be deadly?

No, it wouldn’t be deadly. This is because the Inland Taipan’s venom is stored in one specific part of its body, the venom glands in its head, while the rest of its body is just the same level of non-toxic flesh and blood as a chicken or a fish’s body.

The difference between a venomous creature and a poisonous creature lies in how they deliver their toxins. Venomous creatures actively inject their venom, while poisonous creatures secrete their toxins in a passive way, usually through their skin. It is possible to eat a venomous creature as long as you avoid its venom glands. However, eating a scorpion’s stinger after being stung is a myth and can be dangerous. Poisonous creatures, like the Poison Dart Frog, are highly toxic but cannot actively deliver their venom. They secrete their toxins through their skin or when eaten. Toxins are harmful substances produced by organisms that can be harmful when touched or eaten. Some animals, like the Keelback Snake, can be both poisonous and venomous.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a toxin as a poison of plant or animal origin, particularly one produced by or derived from microorganisms and acting as an antigen in the body. This definition should not be confused with the word “poison” as venoms and poisons are produced by microorganisms in different ways and both act as antigens in the body. In summary, poison is something that you bite and die, venom bites you and you die, and toxins are antigens produced in the body via a biological process. So, if you are ever bitten by a venomous snake, make sure you do not make the grammatical mistake of saying you were bitten by a poisonous snake while calling the emergency services.

FAQ

1. What is venom?

Venom is a toxin that is produced by certain animals, such as snakes, spiders, and scorpions, and is injected into their prey through a bite or sting. Venom is used for self-defense and hunting, and can cause a range of symptoms in humans, such as pain, swelling, and even death in severe cases.

2. What is poison?

Poison is a substance that is toxic to humans and animals if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Poison can occur naturally, such as in certain plants and mushrooms, or be man-made, such as in pesticides and certain chemicals. Poison can cause a range of symptoms, depending on the type and amount of exposure.

3. What are toxins?

Toxins are poisonous substances that are produced by living organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and plants. Toxins can be found in food, water, and the environment, and can cause a range of symptoms in humans, such as nausea, diarrhea, and even death in severe cases.

4. How do venom, poison, and toxins differ?

The main difference between venom, poison, and toxins is the way they enter the body. Venom is injected through a bite or sting, poison is ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin, and toxins can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin and can also be injected. Additionally, venom is produced by certain animals for hunting and self-defense, poison can occur naturally or be man-made, and toxins are produced by living organisms.

5. Can venom, poison, and toxins be lethal?

Yes, all three can be lethal in certain circumstances. The severity of the symptoms and potential for death depend on the type and amount of exposure, as well as the individual’s health and response to the toxin.

6. How are venom, poison, and toxins treated?

Treatment for venom, poison, and toxins depends on the type and severity of the exposure. In some cases, no treatment is necessary and the body will naturally eliminate the toxin. In other cases, medical intervention may be required, such as antivenom for venom, activated charcoal for poison, or supportive care for toxins.

7. Can animals be immune to venom, poison, and toxins?

Yes, some animals have developed immunity or resistance to certain toxins, such as snakes that are immune to their own venom. This is often due to a genetic adaptation or exposure over time. However, no animal is immune to all toxins, and exposure to high levels of any toxin can still be harmful.

8. How can venom, poison, and toxins be avoided?

Venom, poison, and toxins can be avoided by taking precautions, such as wearing protective clothing and gear, avoiding contact with unknown plants and animals, and properly storing and disposing of chemicals. It is also important to be aware of the symptoms of exposure and seek medical attention if necessary.

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