Difference Between Poison and Venom: Types of Toxins

If you’ve been poisoned, you’ll need medical attention right away. But it will be important for you to give the doctor the correct information about whether you’ve been exposed to poison or venom. Keep reading to learn the difference between these types of toxins and to see helpful lists of examples.

difference between poison and venomdifference between poison and venom

How Is Poison Different From Venom?

Poison and venom are both types of toxins. Toxins are substances made of chemical compounds created by living organisms that cause harm to other organisms. The key difference between poison and venom is the way that they enter the body. 

Here are the definitions of poison and venom:

  • poison (n) - a toxin that enters the body by being swallowed, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled

  • venom (n) - a toxin that enters the bloodstream through injection in an injury

Think of it this way: if you touch a poisonous plant, you could see a reaction on your skin. If you touched a venomous snake, you wouldn’t be harmed until it bit you. Another way to think of it is who bites whom: if you bite it and you die, it was poisonous. If it bites you and you die, it was venomous. No matter how you remind yourself, the key is to stay away from toxins.

Examples of Poisonous Organisms

Organisms that use poisons as defense mechanisms don’t attack others; it’s a passive way to keep themselves from being eaten or hurt. Poisonous mushrooms and plants cause harm to animals or humans who eat them, warning their attackers not to eat them again. Examples of poisonous plants and fungi are:

  • agave sap

  • angel’s trumpet

  • apple seeds (in large quantities)

  • asparagus berries

  • autumn skullcap mushroom

  • azalea

  • Christmas rose

  • columbine roots

  • deadly dapperling mushroom

  • deadly nightshade

  • death cap mushroom

  • desert rose

  • destroying angel mushroom

  • hemlock (also known as beaver poison or bad-man’s oatmeal)

  • horse chestnut

  • hyacinth

  • hydrangea

  • poison ivy

  • poison oak

  • poison sumac

  • larkspur

  • lily of the valley

  • manchineel tree and fruit

  • Mexican poppy seeds

  • mistletoe

  • nutmeg (in large amounts)

  • oleander

  • poinsettia

  • raw lima beans

  • raw kidney beans

  • rosary peas (abrus precatorius)

  • snakeroot

  • stinging nettle

  • suicide tree

  • tomato leaves

  • water hemlock (also known as death-of-man)

  • webcap mushroom

  • wolfsbane

  • yellow-staining mushroom

There are also several animals that are poisonous when touched or eaten. These animals and insects include:

  • blister beetle

  • blowfish

  • blue-ringed octopus (also venomous when attacking prey)

  • common toad

  • cuttlefish

  • mantella frog

  • milkweed butterfly

  • monarch butterfly

  • Pacific newts

  • pitohui bird

  • poison dart frog

  • pufferfish

  • quail

  • spur-winged goose

Common Types of Poisons

Although some poisons are chemically synthesized, including pesticides and nerve gas, most poisons occur naturally in plants, fungi, and animals. Examples of poisons found in nature include:

  • abrin

  • aconitine

  • adonidin

  • atropine

  • cerberin

  • chaconine

  • cyanide

  • helenalin

  • malic acid

  • myristicin

  • oxalic acid

  • nicotine

  • protoanemonin

  • ricin

  • solanine

  • tomatine

  • tremetol

  • urushiol

Treatments for Poison

Many instances of poisoning can be treated with the proper antidote. For mild cases of poisoning, doctors treat symptoms as the body flushes the poison out of its system. Using salve or lotion can treat affected skin from touching something poisonous, and supplying oxygen via a ventilator may be necessary for a patient who has inhaled poisonous fumes. Doctors may use activated charcoal to absorb the poison if it was ingested.

Examples of Venoms and Venomous Organisms

Unlike passive poisonous creatures, venom is only created by animals, not plants. These animals use venom in their attacks on prey and when defending themselves. The venom is injected directly into the victim’s bloodstream through a bite, sting, or other injury. 

Here are some examples of animals and insects that release venom when they attack:

  • ants

  • bees

  • black mamba snake

  • black widow spider

  • blue-ringed octopus (also poisonous when eaten)

  • boomslang snake

  • box jellyfish

  • brown recluse spider

  • catfish

  • cone snail

  • death adder snake

  • duck-billed platypus

  • fire coral

  • fire salamander

  • funnel-web spider

  • gila monster

  • king cobra

  • komodo dragon

  • lepidopteran caterpillar

  • lionfish

  • rattlesnake

  • sea anemones

  • scorpions

  • short-tailed shrew

  • stingray

  • taipan snake

  • wasp

  • water shrew

Common Types of Venom

Because many animals have developed individual versions of venom, they are most easily classified into categories. Some animals have various types of venom present in their attacks, which make them more lethal than others. The types of venom that animals create include:

Treatments for Venom

Attacks by venomous animals range from mild to life-threatening. Unlike poison treatments which focus on the symptoms, venom attacks require the use of antivenin (also known as antivenom). This substance is derived from the animal that creates the venom to counteract its effects. The sooner a victim receives antivenom, the higher their chances of survival.

Self-Defense in the Circle of Life

Animals and plants that use poison and venom are trying to keep themselves alive by killing prey or harming predators. These toxins help organisms continue their procreation in their ecosystems. For more about how different organisms function, read an article that includes examples of heterotrophs in their food chains.

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