Bite or be bitten: what is the difference between poison and venom? (2023)

Bite or be bitten: what is the difference between poison and venom? (1)

Read later


During Betatesting articles may only be saved for seven days.

    Create a list of articles to read later. You will be able to access your list from any article in Discover.

    You don't have any saved articles.


    By Emily Osterloff

    (Video) Poison vs. venom: What's the difference? - Rose Eveleth

    Venom and poison can both be deadly, but they're two distinct natural weapons.

    The terms 'venom' and 'poison' are often used to mean the same thing: a toxic chemical produced naturally by an animal. However, the key difference between them lies in their delivery.

    Dr Ronald Jenner, venom evolution expert at the Museum, explains the similarities and differences between these two fascinating toxic substances.

    What's the difference between venomous and poisonous?

    A fundamental difference between venom and poison is how the toxins enter the body of the victim.

    Ronald's rule for telling the difference is straightforward: 'If you bite it and you die it's poison, but if it bites you and you die, that's venom,' he says.

    The hallmark of venom is that it's introduced via a wound. It can be injected through a number of means, including teeth, a sting, spines or claws.

    'Poison is different as there is no wound involved. It can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin, inhaled or ingested,' he says.

    Bite or be bitten: what is the difference between poison and venom? (2)

    Why venom needs a wound

    The reason venom requires a wound for application, but poison doesn't, boils down to the difference in chemical composition.

    'Poison has very small chemical molecules that can easily pass through your skin. The molecules of venom are too big to be absorbed, so they have to be injected,' says Ronald.

    Although possible, drinking venom is certainly not advisable. Even the smallest ulcer or cut anywhere in the mouth or throat would allow venom to be absorbed, resulting in the same effect as being injected.

    'I wouldn't recommend anyone do it, but this is why it is technically possible to drink venom. It can't be absorbed through tissue, and then stomach acid messes up the peptides and proteins, destroying the venom.'

    (Video) The difference between venom and poison

    Poison is usually used defensively or as a predator deterrent. In most cases it is absorbed through the mouth and digestive system.

    Venom can be used defensively. But it has a broader range of roles depending on the animal using it. Some harness it as a tool for hunting, whereas others use it in parasitism or in competition with others of its own species.

    Double threat

    Some species are both venomous and poisonous.

    Bite or be bitten: what is the difference between poison and venom? (3)

    'The spitting cobra bites its prey so it is paralysed when the cobra eats it. But it also spits. If that lands in your eye it can cause blindness and horrible pain. That venom is now by definition a poison, because it is absorbed rather than injected through a wound,' explains Ronald.

    The blue-ringed octopus makes its own venom like other squids and octopuses.

    But the deadly nature of this cephalopod comes from tetrodotoxin (TTX), a poison acquired from bacteria that live in various places in the body, including venom glands.

    'You sometimes find drowned green sea turtles that have been grazing on seagrass and have accidently eaten one of these tiny octopuses, which paralyses them.'

    TTX can act as either a poison if a predator eats the octopus, or as venom if injected through a bite.

    'The venom they naturally produce isn't that powerful, but the tetrodotoxin from the bacteria blocks the transmission of nerve impulses to muscles, and the diaphragm paralyses, causing suffocation.'

    Bite or be bitten: what is the difference between poison and venom? (4)

    Painful doesn't always mean fatal

    Not all venoms and poisons are fatal to humans. An envenomation can just be painful, as the substances may be being used as a deterrent.

    The bullet ant is regarded as having the most painful sting of all insects. The pain can last up to 24 hours, but a human victim is likely to walk away otherwise unharmed.

    Bees and wasps can both provide an uncomfortable sting, but for the most part, neither is deadly - except in cases of anaphylactic shock, an extreme allergic reaction to the venom.

    Similarly, some poisons will cause swelling, nausea or other unpleasant side effects if the toxins are absorbed.

    Venom resistance

    Some animals are so frequently at risk from venom and poison that they have developed a total resistance to them.

    Meerkats prey mainly on insects but are also known to feast on lizards, snakes and spiders. Because of their varied diet, they tend to come up against some venomous bites and stings.

    Meerkats are part of the mongoose family (Herpestidae), several members of which have evolved resistance to venom. This means they can freely hunt venomous prey with limited risk.

    (Video) Venoms vs. Poisons

    Bite or be bitten: what is the difference between poison and venom? (5)

    Almost all animals have receptors that transmit chemical messages around the body. Venom works by binding itself to these receptors, blocking vital impulse conduction pathways that allow the body to function normally, such as nerve-muscle communication.

    Animals that have developed venom resistance have evolved mechanisms to stop the toxins from binding to the receptors. This results in an animal that can withstand venom with little or no side effect.

    So far scientists fully understand venom resistance in only four mammals - mongooses, honey badgers, hedgehogs and pigs - as well as several snakes.

    The golden poison frog is one of the most toxic animals on Earth, deadly to almost all animals except one. Their skin is covered in a potent poison that prevents nerves from transmitting impulses, rendering muscles inactive.

    These frogs' only predators are a single species of snake, Liophis epinephelus, which has developed a resistance to their powerful poison.

    But with the enormous variety of animals on the planet, there is a whole world of venom and poisons left for experts to explore, from the toxin cocktails to the animals that might be resistant to them.

    • What on Earth?
    • Venom
    Bite or be bitten: what is the difference between poison and venom? (6)

    Take the venom challenge

    Face your fears and test your knowledge of venomous creatures.

    Play the game
    (Video) Poison Apparatus and Biting Mechanism in Snakes

    Bite or be bitten: what is the difference between poison and venom? (7)

    What on Earth?

    Just how weird can the natural world be?

    Explore the unusual

    Read more

    • What on Earth?The most painful wasp sting in the world explainedArmed with one of the most painful stings on the planet, tarantula hawks are a spider's worst nightmare.
    • What on Earth?What happens when you're bitten by a venomous snake?Snakebite is one of the world's deadliest neglected health issues. But what does venom actually do to you?
    • What on Earth?Mastering venomFrom snake-filled projectiles and medieval remedies to the very first antivenom, our relationship with venomous creatures has a colourful history.
    • What on Earth?Face-to-face with spitting cobrasHave you ever seen a cobra spit venom in super slow motion?

    Don't miss a thing

    Receive email updates about our news, science, exhibitions, events, products, services and fundraising activities. We may occasionally include third-party content from our corporate partners and other museums. We will not share your personal details with these third parties. You must be over the age of 13. Privacy notice.

    (Video) Venoms, Poisons & Toxungens -What’s the difference?


    What's the difference between venom and poison snake? ›

    The difference between venom and poison is how the toxin gets into a body. Poison is either eaten or touched, like poison ivy or arsenic. Those can only hurt you if you put them in your mouth or on your skin. Venom, on the other hand, is injected.

    What is the difference between poison and venom Quora? ›

    Venom : Venom should be injected. Venom can be injected into body by either stinger, set of fangs or a barb. Poison : Poison has to be absorbed. Poison should be absorbed into the body.

    What kills you venom or poison? ›

    When it comes down to poisonous vs venomous, it's all down to the method of delivery. It's all down to the method of delivery. Venoms must be injected to be effective, whereas poisons can come into contact with skin, or be inhaled, eaten or touched.

    What is different between poisonous and venomous? ›

    According to biologists, the term venomous is applied to organisms that bite (or sting) to inject their toxins, whereas the term poisonous applies to organisms that unload toxins when you eat them. This means that very few snakes are truly poisonous. The vast majority of snake toxins are transferred by bite.

    What is venom and poison? ›

    Poison enters the body by swallowing, inhaling, or absorption through the skin. Venom is injected through bite or sting. Basically, if a person bites an organism and dies, the organism is poisonous. However, if an organism bites a person and he dies, the organism is venomous.

    What is the importance of knowing the difference of poison to venom? ›

    Because venom needs to be injected, technically most animal venoms could be touched or even swallowed without negative effects (but DO NOT try that at home!) Poisonous animals, on the other hand, coat part or all of their body in a toxic substance, so they're harmful to touch or eat.

    Is poison stronger than venom? ›

    So, to sum up: I would argue that venoms are more dangerous than poisons in the hands (or actually fangs, stingers, and spines) of animals, whereas the opposite is true for when they are in the hands of humans. Either way, I would stay clear of both.

    What is the difference between venom and poison and toxin? ›

    In scientific terms, the most usual definition for harmful animal toxins classify them into two categories: venoms, the toxins that are injected into the victim by an action of the venomous species, and poisons, the toxins that are delivered as the result of an action by the victim.

    Do spiders have venom or poison? ›

    Except for two small groups in the arachnid family, all spiders have poison glands and release their secretions into their venom sacs near their chelicerae. However, the majority of spiders do not bite humans and except for a few cases, they are not harmful to the human being or other mammals (2).

    Are there any animals that are both poisonous and venomous? ›

    Asian tiger snake. The Asian tiger snake is the only snake species that is both venomous and poisonous. Not only does it produce toxin for its bite, but it also stores poison it obtains from its toad prey in its skin.

    What is the most poisonous animal? ›

    The blue-ringed octopodes (Hapalochlaena spp.) produce tetrodotoxin, which is extremely toxic to even the healthiest adult humans, though the number of actual fatalities they have caused is far lower than the number caused by spiders and snakes, with which human contact is more common.

    Are snake bites poisonous or venomous? ›

    Snake bites occur when a snake bites the skin. They are medical emergencies if the snake is venomous. Venomous animals account for a large number of deaths and injuries worldwide. Snakes alone are estimated to inflict 2.5 million venomous bites each year, resulting in about 125,000 deaths.

    What is the best definition of venomous? ›

    venomous. adjective. ven·​om·​ous ˈven-ə-məs. : poisonous. : producing venom in a specialized gland and capable of inflicting injury or death.

    What does venom do to a body? ›

    Their venom is typically neurotoxic, which means that it interferes with the transmission of nerve impulses. It generally has an immobilising effect, either making a victim's body turn rigid or become limp. Neurotoxicity and haemotoxicity are not the only effects venoms can have, nor are they mutually exclusive.

    Do humans have venom? ›

    A new study has revealed that humans have the capability of producing venom. In fact, they already produce a key protein used in many venom systems. By India Today Web Desk: A new study has revealed that humans - along with all other mammals and reptiles - have the capability of producing venom.

    What does the name venom mean? ›

    The goddess Venus gave her name to 'venesom', which became the Latin 'venenum' meaning "magical charm, potent drug." From there, it was just a short step to the word 'venom' and the meaning "deadly substance, poison."

    How do you identify venom? ›

    Examining a snake's pupils is another method that can be utilized to identify venomous versus non-venomous snakes. Like a cat's eye, venomous snakes have thin, black, vertical pupils surrounded by a yellow-green eyeball while non-venomous snakes have rounded pupils.

    Why is venom so poisonous? ›

    Venoms kill through the action of at least four major classes of toxin, namely necrotoxins and cytotoxins, which kill cells; neurotoxins, which affect nervous systems; myotoxins, which damage muscles; and haemotoxins, which disrupt blood clotting. Venomous animals cause tens of thousands of human deaths per year.

    Who beats poison? ›

    Type chart, effectiveness and weakness explained in Pokémon Go
    TypeStrong AgainstVulnerable To
    PoisonGrass, FairyGround, Psychic
    GroundPoison, Rock, Steel, Fire, ElectricWater, Grass, Ice
    RockFlying, Bug, Fire, IceFighting, Ground, Steel, Water, Grass
    BugGrass, Psychic, DarkFlying, Rock, Fire
    14 more rows
    Dec 15, 2022

    What happens if you swallow venom? ›

    If you drink venom, will it kill you? Poisons are substances that are toxic (cause harm) if swallowed or inhaled. Venoms are generally not toxic if swallowed, and must be injected under the skin (by snakes, spiders, etc.) into the tissues that are normally protected by skin in order to be toxic.

    What is the most powerful poison on earth? ›

    Botulinum toxin

    Scientists differ about the relative toxicities of substances, but they seem to agree that botulinum toxin, produced by anaerobic bacteria, is the most toxic substance known.

    What is the most poisonous spider in United States? ›

    #1: Brown Recluse Spider

    Its venom destroys the walls of blood vessels near the site of the bite, sometimes causing a large skin ulcer. Native to the central and eastern part of the United States, the brown recluse spider is perhaps the deadliest species in all of North America.

    What kills spiders instantly? ›

    What kills spiders instantly?
    • Use an insect spray to kill spiders. To keep spiders at bay, regularly spray spider-prone areas in your home. ...
    • Squish the spider with a tissue or solid object. ...
    • Vacuum it up. ...
    • Use a pest control bomb.

    What is the deadliest spider in the United States? ›

    In North America, the brown recluse is considered the most dangerous spider.

    What is the number 1 most poisonous animal in the world? ›

    The Box Jellyfish is the most venomous animal in the world. Death can occur minutes after being stung. There are 51 species of box jellyfish, and four — Chironex fleckeri, Carukia barnesi, Malo kingi, and Chironex yamaguchii — are highly venomous!

    What animal Cannot be poisoned? ›

    This results in an animal that can withstand venom with little or no side effect. So far scientists fully understand venom resistance in only four mammals - mongooses, honey badgers, hedgehogs and pigs - as well as several snakes.

    Can something be both poison and venom? ›

    Occasionally an animal can be both venomous and poisonous. The blue-ringed octopus, for example, is venomous when it bites with its beak but it is poisonous if it is swallowed. This is because it has a myriad of toxins in it, with the most potent (tetrodotoxin) able to be absorbed due to its very small size.

    What animal kills the most humans Year? ›

    In terms of the number of humans killed every year, mosquitos by far hold the record, being responsible for between 725,000 and 1,000,000 deaths annually.

    What is the number 2 deadliest animal? ›

    2. Mosquito. Clocking in at just three millimeters at their smallest, the common mosquito, even tinier than the tsetse fly, ranks as the second most dangerous animal in the world.

    What specific animal kills the most humans? ›

    While larger animals like sharks or hippos may seem a likely culprit, the animal that kills the most humans per year is actually the mosquito.

    Is snake venom a type of poison? ›

    Abstract. Snake venom poisoning constitutes a medical emergency. It is a complex type of poisoning that not only affects the local bite site but may involve multiple organ systems as well. In the United States, poisonous snakes account for approximately 8,000 bites annually, resulting in about 9 to 15 fatalities.

    Do all snakes have venom or poison? ›

    About 600 species are venomous, and only about 200—seven percent—are able to kill or significantly wound a human. Nonvenomous snakes, which range from harmless garter snakes to the not-so-harmless python, dispatch their victims by swallowing them alive or constricting them to death.

    What are the 3 types of snake venom? ›

    Snake venom can be classified into three major categories – neurotoxic, hemotoxic and cytotoxic. These venoms impact specific regions and functions of the target's body.

    Which snake has the deadliest venom? ›

    The inland or western taipan, Oxyuranus microlepidotus, is the most venomous snake in the world, according to Britannica. Native to Australia, this snake has the deadliest venom based on median lethal dose, or LD50, tests on mice.

    What is the most poisonous animal in the world? ›

    The blue-ringed octopodes (Hapalochlaena spp.) produce tetrodotoxin, which is extremely toxic to even the healthiest adult humans, though the number of actual fatalities they have caused is far lower than the number caused by spiders and snakes, with which human contact is more common.

    Are spiders poisonous or venomous? ›

    Mushrooms are sometimes poisonous, but spiders are not; they are venomous (their toxins are proteins and work by being injected, not by being eaten). Second, we have a set of false assumptions about spider venoms. Almost all spiders are venomous; only two small families lack venom glands.

    Which snake has born with no venom? ›

    Indotyphlops braminus, commonly known as the brahminy blind snake and other names, is a non-venomous blind snake species found mostly in Africa and Asia, but has been introduced in many other parts of the world.
    Indotyphlops braminus
    Species:I. braminus
    12 more rows

    Can plants be venomous? ›

    Many plants are poisonous to humans when ingested or through skin contact with plant chemicals. The most common problems with poisonous plants arise from contact with the sap oil. Several plants native to the United States can cause an allergic skin reaction. These include poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.

    Are pigs immune to snake venom? ›

    Their resistance is to the a-neurotoxin in snake venom, specifically. Domestic pigs have a genetic mutation in their cell receptors that prevents binding of the a-neurotoxin, rendering the venom useless. The resistance doesn't occur in most pigs until they are adults, so small pigs are still vulnerable.

    Are cats immune to snake venom? ›

    No, cats have no immunity to venomous bites. It's an old wive's tale. Over the years, we've had mountain lions, bobcats, wolves, coyote, dogs and horses bitten by rattlesnakes and they all get sick. Antivenom is given, if it's caught early enough, within 2 hours of the bite.

    What is venom made out of? ›

    Venom is known to be a very poisonous mixture, consisting of a variety of molecules, such as carbohydrates, nucleosides, amino acids, lipids, proteins and peptides.

    What is the most venomous snake in the United States? ›

    Description. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is the largest of its species in the world and the most venomous snake in North America. It has a distinct coloration pattern consisting of dark diamond-shaped dorsal blotches defined by a border of yellowish scales.

    What snake kills humans the fastest? ›

    The black mamba, for example, injects up to 12 times the lethal dose for humans in each bite and may bite as many as 12 times in a single attack. This mamba has the fastest-acting venom of any snake, but humans are much larger than its usual prey so it still takes 20 minutes for you to die.

    What is the deadliest snake on land? ›

    The most toxic terrestrial snake in the world is the inland taipan, aka small-scaled snake (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) of Queensland and western New South Wales in Australia.


    1. Venom vs Poison!
    (Brave Wilderness)
    2. The Effect Of Snake Venom On Blood
    4. Venom vs Poison difference | कैसे पहचाने ? |
    (Discover Abhi)
    5. Human Blood vs. Snake Venom!
    (Brave Wilderness)
    6. Poison vs. Venom: What's the Difference?
    (Matthew Valiga)
    Top Articles
    Latest Posts
    Article information

    Author: Laurine Ryan

    Last Updated: 01/27/2023

    Views: 5619

    Rating: 4.7 / 5 (77 voted)

    Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

    Author information

    Name: Laurine Ryan

    Birthday: 1994-12-23

    Address: Suite 751 871 Lissette Throughway, West Kittie, NH 41603

    Phone: +2366831109631

    Job: Sales Producer

    Hobby: Creative writing, Motor sports, Do it yourself, Skateboarding, Coffee roasting, Calligraphy, Stand-up comedy

    Introduction: My name is Laurine Ryan, I am a adorable, fair, graceful, spotless, gorgeous, homely, cooperative person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.