Is there a difference between “venomous” and
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.
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.