The obvious fact about poison and venom is that you shouldn’t put either of them in your body. But after that, things may become perplexing. Although the two terms can occasionally be used interchangeably in everyday speech, they are distinguished in scientific situations.
The major distinctions between poison and venom, as well as the adjective forms poisonous and venomous, will be discussed in this article, particularly in relation to snakes, plants, and other living things.
Poison vs. Venom
Although the words “venom” and “poison” are frequently used synonymously, they do not mean the same thing. They both contain poisonous substances that may cause illness or death, but the key distinction is how the unfortunate victim is exposed to them.
Toxins like poison can enter the body by ingestion, inhalation, or skin absorption. Animals that are poisonous have a tendency to be more passive-aggressive; they frequently won’t aggressively pursue their prey but instead unleash their poisons when it is eaten, handled, or otherwise disturbed.
A cane toad is a deadly creature that releases poisons from glands on each shoulder. To be harmful, it must be licked or swallowed. A common example of a dangerous plant is poison ivy, which when touched may cause an itchy, occasionally painful rash.
Anthropocentric (Mis)Interpretation Of The Use Of Venoms And Poisons By Animals
Animals that are venomous or dangerous typically utilise their toxic chemicals for food or defense. Because they may envenomate humans and their pets, snakes, amphibians, arachnids, and other creatures are seen as a hazard to public health.
However, such incidents are not attacks in the literal meaning of the word since animals almost always only act to protect themselves against threats they perceive, employing tools that have evolved over the course of their evolutionary history.
Of fact, the unwarranted use of poisons as a kind of defense, often with fatal results, directly runs counter to how humans understand the world. Because of this, the animal defense instinct is frequently perceived as a sinister behavior that directly affects how we think about good and evil.
Here, the definition of an aggressor is unambiguous and is based on both human notions and the typical responses of venomous and toxic animals to aggressiveness.
Two biological sorts of aggressors may be distinguished: the supposed aggressor, which is any living thing that unintentionally violates the animal’s line of safety, and the potential aggressor, which is typically a predator
triggering the body’s poisoned or venomous defense mechanisms. The second group includes snakes, arachnids, and several other species that may sometimes poison humans.
venom and poison are not the same thing
Venom is a specialized form of poison that has evolved with a particular function in mind. Through a bite or sting, it is actively administered. Venom requires a wound to enter the body since it contains a mixture of tiny and big molecules, and in order to be effective, it needs to get into the bloodstream.
Venomous creatures are more active in protecting themselves as a result. A taipan is a poisonous mammal that injects venom through teeth that resemble syringes. The same goes for jellyfish, which use venom-filled harpoon-like projections that shoot out from cells along their tentacles when touched to inject poison into skin.
On rare occasions, a creature may both venom and poison. The blue-ringed octopus, for instance, has a beak that can bite and inject venom, but its toxic if consumed. This is because it contains a variety of toxins, the most potent of which (tetrodotoxin) may be absorbed due to its tiny size.
Disadvantages Of Using Venom As A Defence
Independent evolutionary investments in distinct groups of living creatures functioning in varied systems of generation and discharge of venoms or poisons have resulted in the wide variation in nature of protective tactics through the introduction of poisonous substances into aggressors or predators (Arbuckle, 2015; Nelsen et al., 2014).
Viperids, for instance, possess a very accurate injection system that, along with the organs employed for environmental awareness, was essentially molded to meet their feeding requirements. The majority of viperid species are silent predators that wait for their prey to approach.
A precise and uncomplicated blow is sufficient to induce venom injection into the prey, assuring its quick immobilization and availability for easy ingestion. As a result, their energy consumption during eating is modest.
When a snake uses venom to defend itself, it seems to put it at a physiological disadvantage since it will have to go without food while the venom glands are replenishing. There is no prospect of quick and thorough prey immobilization if there is no or little venom in the glands.
This fact appears to be directly related to the snakes’ use of auditory or visual warnings directed at the aggressor or predator, such as rattlesnakes’ and coral snakes’ displays of vibrant colors, in an effort to avoid defensive attacks and, in most cases, quickly flee the danger (Owings et al., 2002).
Similar to rattlesnakes, certain other snakes, such those in the genus Bothrops, may rhythmically strike their tail tips on the forest floor litter when they feel threatened (Arajo & Martins, 2006). These noises are quite similar to rattlesnake rattles.
What is the difference between poison vs. venom?
The term “poison” can be used to describe any material that has a fatal or destructive characteristic as part of its natural makeup. Perhaps most frequently, the phrase is used to describe compounds that are meant to damage people in this way, as in the expressions “rat poison” or “The poison they employed was a nerve agent.”
When referring to naturally occurring hazardous compounds and substances like arsenic or cyanide, the word “poison” is also sometimes employed (which can also be used intentionally to cause harm). It may also refer to artificial substances like bleach or other cleansers that aren’t meant to hurt but might if consumed.
The phrase “venom” is far more precise; it describes a poisonous chemical generated in an animal’s body and administered via injection, such as that found in some snakes, spiders, and wasps.
These animals may utilize venom to protect themselves or as a tool for hunting down prey. Although most snakes distribute their venom by biting, some may also spray or “spit” it. Insects like wasps and other stinging creatures may deliver poison. Some jellyfish have barbed tentacles that release poison.
Venom’s toxicity varies greatly. Different venoms can cause anything from a little irritant to death.
Instead of venom, some animals create harmful compounds that are referred to as poison. In contrast to actively being injected or sprayed, this is the situation when the material is just produced by the animal or stored inside its body (as in the case of the poison-arrow frog).
Poisonous chemicals are produced by living creatures other than animals. Many plants have toxins that are harmful if consumed or in touch with the skin, although these toxins are usually referred to as poisons rather than venoms.
Active And Passive Defences
Generally speaking, there are two main categories of animal defensive behavior: active defense, which is carried out in response to attacks instigated by aggressors and typically involves physical force with the aid of teeth or claws; and passive defense, which is based on non-reactive defensive strategies and solely dependent on an attack by the potential or supposed aggressor.
Active defense is significantly more common in the natural world. Most animal species, including Homo sapiens sapiens, often retaliate against an assault by launching their own.
On the other hand, there are species that rely on passive behavior, like the porcupine or the hedgehog, which remain motionless in the face of an attack because they believe the attacker would inflict mechanical self-harm with their spines. In particular, defense with the spines is frequently quite effective, frequently resulting in serious or even fatal damage.
Other animals, like turtles and armadillos, create physical barriers with their shells as a type of passive defense, impeding the aggression of the aggressor.
The employment of chemical substances, venoms, or poisons, which constitute active or passive modalities of chemical defense, can frequently be combined with the physical benefits of animal active or passive defense.
an animal can be both venomous and poisonous
If administered properly, venom and poison are both intended to be effective. However, what would occur if you ingested the venom (as opposed to having it injected)?
It is theoretically conceivable to ingest venom and have no consequences, albeit there haven’t been many volunteers for this experiment (unless of course you had cuts in your mouth, in which case it could enter your bloodstream).
This is due to the notion that before the venom could enter your bloodstream, the stomach’s acids would break it down like any other protein.
The best course of action is to be aware of potential venomous and deadly organisms in your region and attempt to avoid them, whether it’s by ingestion or injection.
Poisonous creatures include amphibians like frogs, toads, and salamanders. The world’s most lethal frogs are dart frogs. Toxins on their skin serve as a predator deterrent.
A pufferfish’s kidney, liver, and spikes all contain nerve poisons that are dangerous to people.
In some cases, poisons like hydrogen sulfide can be employed in research, such as to induce states resembling suspended animation in mice for a variety of experiments.
Venom And Active Chemical Defence
In general, venomous animals rely on active chemical defense. Snakes, especially viperids, aggressively protect themselves by injecting venom in a sudden and potent manner.
Regardless of the true motive of the prospective (or perceived) attacker, a simple threat is enough to elicit a strike from the snake, which will then open its mouth widely, expose its conspicuous set of fangs, and position them forward in preparation to inject its venom.
The snake intentionally contracts its surrounding muscles to compress the venom glands as it strikes, resulting in an instantaneous release of venom through the fangs (rather than a slow, painful bite) (Figure 3).
Some venomous creatures
Since 1954, the box jellyfish has been linked to 5,567 documented fatalities. It is only possible to survive getting stung by it if treated right away since its stingers contain incredibly potent poisons that damage the heart, neurological system, and skin cells.
Wasps and bees: You’ve definitely experienced the pain of a wasp or bee sting at some point in your life.
Dogfish sharks: Unusually for sharks, their dorsal spines are coated with venom, which is somewhat harmful to humans.
The saliva of European moles includes poisons that can render earthworms paralyzed. The moles then keep them alive in storage for a later pleasant reward.
Although tarantula venom has not been shown to cause human mortality, it can be unpleasant (similar to a wasp sting). The bite of the spider may deliver poison, and some species also have venom on the barbed bristles on their abdomen.
Now you can categorize poisonous creatures precisely and know which to avoid.
Poison And Passive Chemical Defence
Animals that are poisonous display passive chemical defense that is often poorly understood. Among vertebrates, frogs’ chemical arsenal is mostly focused on defense, in contrast to aggressive snakes. The mouth mucosa of the predator (or aggressor) comes into touch with the secretion released by the skin poison glands when an amphibian is bitten (Toledo & Jared, 1995).
Amphibians favor the expulsion of poison at the time of aggression by adopting postures that increase body volume or give the aggressor body areas with a high concentration of poison glands (Jared et al., 2009; Regis-Alves et al., 2017).
Additionally, it is already well known that amphibian poison protects against germs and desiccation in addition to being used to harm aggressors or predators (Duellman & Trueb, 1994; Hillman et al., 2010; Toledo & Jared, 1995).
Despite having epidermal origins, these animals have two primary kinds of dermal-located skin glands: the mucous and poison (or granular) glands (Figure 4). (Toledo & Jared, 1995).
The poisonous substances are contained in the venom and the mucous glands, and are employed by salamanders and newts (Order Caudata) to ward off potential predators (Mailho-Fontana et al., 2019). In addition to aiding in breathing, the mucous glands of the three amphibian orders, including Gymnophiona (caecilians), may also generate bactericidal and fungicidal chemicals (Sawaya, 1940).
This theory could explain why, despite amphibians’ bodies being constantly moist and mucous, which could theoretically serve as a favorable environment for the growth of microorganisms, these animals have healthy skin in their natural habitats and have the renowned ability to regenerate damaged skin quickly (Brockes & Kumar, 2008; Godwin & Rosenthal, 2014; Tanaka & Reddien, 2011).