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Is there a difference between “venomous” and poisonous?

May 10


We’re so glad you asked! Yes, there is a difference between venomous and poisonous, although the terms are often used interchangeably. Actually, they have very different meanings. Both pertain to poison, however, the distinguishing factor is the method of delivery.


Poisonous means a toxin that can cause harm when absorbed or eaten (ingested). Many plants, amphibians and mushrooms are poisonous. For example, we know to stay clear of poison ivy, because a brush with the plant can result in a nasty rash. Amphibians are another good example. Have you ever seen your dog play with a frog and end up with a foamy mouth? That’s because the dog ingested a mild poison from the frog’s glands. The frog uses the poison as a defense against predators.

Diamondback Rattlesnake

Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are one of six venomous snakes in North Carolina. They use venom for capturing prey andr self-defense. (Photo by Dr. Craig Harms)


Venomous means a toxin that can cause harm when injected. Injections can be delivered by barbs, stingers, spurs, spines, tentacles, - you get the idea. For example, spiders bite, jellyfish sting, and stingrays puncture.


A number of animals are venomous, with snakes being the first to come to mind. It’s interesting to note, however, that no snake species have ever been known to be poisonous, nor do they have toxin-producing glands on their skin that could be absorbed or ingested to cause harm. All snake species can be ingested (eaten) without ill side-effects. Six species of snakes in North Carolina are venomous. They must bite in order to deliver venom to their victims, often resulting in paralyzation or death.