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Difference between Poisonous and Venomous. Which Is Worse?

Beverley Byer has been writing professionally for a number of years. Her work has been published in magazines and newspapers.

The words “poisonous” and “venomous” are often used interchangeably, but poisonous refers to animals and plants with toxic tissues: the entire body or parts of the body, and venomous refers to animals with specific or specialized body parts that produce and/ or transport toxins. Though both cases result in injury and even fatality, you would have to touch or ingest the poisonous animal or plant, whereas venomous creatures use their specialized body parts (spines/ needles, fangs, stingers) to attack or defend themselves, transporting poison in the process.

Tiger salamander

Tiger salamander

Poison oak (Pacific)

Poison oak (Pacific)

Examples of Poisonous Animals and Plants

Injuries from these animals and plants may not be readily realized or identified because as stated, you would have to come in direct contact with them through touch or consumption. Examples of poisonous animals are: Amphibians- frogs: poisonous dart frog; toads: common toad, European green toad; Salamanders: Pacific newt; Birds- common quail, Spur-winged goose; Insects- Flamboyant Cuttlefish, milkweed butterfly; Sea creatures- puffer fish/ blowfish.

Examples of poisonous plants are: Vegetable- Rhubarb leaves; House- Daffodil bulbs, Hyacinth, Elephant Ear; Garden- Azaleas, Crocus buds, Laurel, Lily-of the-valley foliage and flowers; Trees- Oak foliage and acorns; Weeds- Poison Ivy, Poison Oak.

Western Cottonmouth snake (hemotoxic)

Western Cottonmouth snake (hemotoxic)

Duck-billed platypus (male: neurotoxic)

Duck-billed platypus (male: neurotoxic)

Stingray (cytotoxic)

Stingray (cytotoxic)

Examples of Venomous Animals

These animals distribute three main types of venom or toxins.

(1) Hemotoxins attack the cardiovascular or circulatory system, perforating blood vessels, causing the victim to clot or bleed profusely with accompanying swelling and pain. Examples of hemotoxic animals: Insects- spiders: Brown Recluse/ Violin Spider; Reptiles- snakes: pit vipers, most treacherous Russell’s Viper, copperheads, some cobras, Eastern and Western rattlesnakes, Western Cottonmouth.

(2) Neurotoxins attack the nervous system including the brain. Nerve function is disrupted, causing paralysis, and pain. Examples of neurotoxic animals: Bird- Pitohui; Insects- ants, honey bee, wasps, spiders: Black widow spider, Button spider, scorpions: South American scorpion, Mexican scorpion; tarantulas: African tarantula, South American rose hair tarantula; Mammals- male Duck-billed platypus; Reptiles- lizards: Komono dragon, gila monster; snakes: coral, Krait, mambas( black, green), some cobras, some rattlesnakes; Sea creatures- Portuguese man o war, box jellyfish, some octopi, sea anemone, cone snail.

(3) Cytotoxins penetrate local tissues quickly, causing swelling and cell destruction. Examples of cytotoxic animals: Insects- Red imported fire ants, centipedes, spiders: White-tailed, Sac, Wolf; Reptiles- some cobras, some puff adders; Sea creatures- stingrays.

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Some scientists and researchers break down venom even more specifically. For instance, you might see the word myotoxins: attack muscular tissues; cardiotoxins: attack the heart and circulatory system. And some animals have venom that put them into multiple categories. For instance, stonefish has neurotoxic, myotoxic, and cardiotoxic venom. The Gaboon viper and the Six-Eyed spider have both hemotoxic and cytotoxic venom.

Which Is Worse?

Since neurotoxins act most quickly in causing serious injury, according to the article “Victims of Venom. Introduction I,”, it could be considered the worst of the three main categories. Overall, venomous injuries seem more life-threatening than poisonous ones. Either way, here are a few recommended tips to minimize damage:

- Wash the affected area with clean water and soap or hydrogen peroxide.

- Compress the injured limb with a tourniquet (bandage) to restrict bleeding.

- Apply a splint to the injured limb to keep it horizontal, if possible.

- Induce vomiting, and/ or drink plenty of water, if poison is consumed.

- Above all, seek professional medical treatment as soon as possible!


Beverley Byer (author) from United States of America on May 08, 2013:

Funny comments. As per the "outdoors/ wilderness," I guess I consider myself to be, somewhat.

Nick Malizia from USA on May 08, 2013:

There's so much here to absorb, no pun intended, so I'm going to have to return and finish this but it's very informative and the flora/faunae pictures are beautiful (though I'm easy to impress in some way. I chat with my mom about dogs. She says "That dog's ugly." And I reply there's something beautiful in all living creatures- with some exceptions like the Tasmanian Devil, though at a difference I find them so vile to be hilarious.- and add, "Besides it's not gnawing on your leg or anything.")

I just finished the "berry" hub. Are you an outdoors/wilderness enthusiast? That's really cool.

Leah Kennedy-Jangraw from Massachusetts on January 23, 2013:

Interesting hub- very useful information. The difference between the two can be confusing, thanks for the clarification.

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