When you hear the words “venomous” or “poisonous” used to describe a plant or animal, chances are you will approach with caution. That’s because both terms often get used to describe something that is toxic and dangerous. And while many seem to use both words interchangeably, it should be noted that there are actually some stark differences between the two. What is the difference between venom and poison? Let’s find out!
What’s the Difference Between Venom and Poison?
Both venom and poison are considered toxins. A toxin is a chemical that is biologically produced to alter the normal functions of another creature. How these chemicals are delivered is what classifies them as either a venom or a poison.
Venom is a toxin that is injected into another organism. This can be accomplished by the venomous creature biting or stinging you. Poisons, conversely, are secreted. Therefore, to get poisoned, you would either have to touch or ingest a creature that secretes it.
When either venom or poison gets into your system, it will enter the bloodstream and target the vital organs, including the hearth and brain. If the venom or poison is strong, it can kill instantly.
Creatures that have venom include snakes, scorpion, spiders, and bees, with some newts and exotic fish having spines that can also inject venom. Creatures that have poison include some frogs and fish, like the Poison dart frog or pufferfish.
How Does Venom and Poison Work?
Venom can contain different classes of toxins, which are generally divided into three categories: hemotoxins, cytotoxins, and neurotoxins. Some venoms are complex mixtures of toxins of differing types.
Cytotoxin: This is the most primitive form of venom. It destroys cells, particularly muscle cells, causing them to die and collapse. Some cytotoxins specifically attack the heart, causing it to fail.
Hemotoxin: This venom can either target the red blood cells and vessels, causing the prey to die from internal or external bleeding, or it can cause the blood to coagulate, making it clot throughout the entire body.
Neurotoxin: This venom works by either paralyzing the prey the causing the respiratory system to shut down or by overloading the nervous system and causing it to collapse. These toxins are incredibly fast acting.
Most poisons fall into the neurotoxin category. Again, these can vary depending on the species, but they can have deadly consequences if a person touches or ingests it.
Can you determine if these snakes are venomous or not?
Antivenom and Antidotes
Antivenom has been used over the years as a way to combat the effects of venom. In essence, antivenom is created by taking the venom of a poisonous animal and injecting it into a domestic animal. Once the animal develops antibodies, they are collected from the animal’s blood and purified so that they can be used to help other victims.
Since venom can vary from species to species and even within the species, it’s important to have a wide range of antivenom accessible to counteract the effects of the venom. Antivenom farms make good money harvesting snake toxin to create these life-saving medicines.
Not all venom and poisons have antivenom or antidotes though. In these cases, precautionary measures and other medications to support heart function are often used.
Both poison and venom can be deadly to humans if they are injected or ingested into the body. Both of these toxins have evolved over time to give species a chance at survival. Most of the time, humans are not the intended target for infection. But if they happen to get in the way, a creature will do what it has to to survive.
Did you like this post? Click here to find more science articles from the Sporcle Blog. Or, test your knowledge by playing the fun quiz below!