Recently, on a safari, one of our guests asked, Is there a difference between a poisonous creature and a venomous one? This posed an interesting question, one we thought was worth investigating a bit further. The simple answer is that both use toxins to defend themselves or paralyse their prey; the difference lies in how these creatures apply their toxins.
If you are confused, rest assured that even some scientific experts struggle with the difference between creatures that are poisonous and ones that are venous. The most obvious and easiest to remember is that venom must be injected, while poison is usually ingested or absorbed through the skin. Venomous creatures will first wound their prey by using fangs, stingers, or spines, and only then inject their toxin. On the other side, a poisonous creature will passively secrete their toxin, usually through their skin.
Bites and Stingers
Most venomous creatures make the toxins themselves before biting, stinging, or injecting them, which also means venom is more physically complex than poison. The venom needs to bypass the digestive system before being dispensed directly through a bite or sting. Spiders and snakes have hollow fangs, which they use to distribute their toxins, which then paralyse the prey’s neurological or circulation systems.
Apart from the obvious venomous creatures such as snakes, spiders, and scorpions, there is a long list of other nasty culprits: bees, wasps, centipedes, and the list goes on. However, we will stop there if you are planning to ever leave your house again feeling safe!
What is your poison?
Bet you did not know that most amphibians are poisonous—think toads and frogs! They all have glands in their skin that secrete toxic substances that evolved to deter predators, which means that not all frogs are poisonous to humans. When a predator swallows a poisonous frog, the toxins quickly travel through the body, causing temporary illness or even death. Luckily, most poisonous creatures are brightly coloured, which acts as a warning sign to any would-be predators.
There are also some seriously poisonous plants; these are more common than poisonous creatures. They extract their toxins when unsuspecting humans encounter them, often causing hives, itchy skin, or rashes. There are also several plants that are deadly when eaten.
A confusing conclusion
In a few rare cases, there are creatures that can be both venomous and poisonous, for example, the spitting cobra. This snake can give an incredibly painful, dangerous bite as well as spray blinding, burning venom into its prey’s eyes.
So, in conclusion, when asked if a creature is poisonous or venomous, occasionally the answer can be: neither or both! Luckily, there are not too many examples of either venomous or poisonous creatures or plants in the Timbavati; however, it still pays off to understand the difference between the two.