Poison and venom.  They’re as interchangeable as “good” and “fine”, right?Wrong.

It is a common misconception that poison and venom are the same thing.  In fact, they have two very different meanings.

Let us explain.

First up, we have…

Poison

Poison is a substance that, when absorbed or ingested, is capable of causing illness or death to an organism.  A poisonous animal produces toxins that, when the animal is touched or eaten, harm the organism touching or eating it.

For example, the below pufferfish is poisonous rather than venomous. Why? Because he produces toxins – enough in fact to kill 30 adult humans.  The key is that his toxicity to other creatures occurs when he is eaten, or in some instances, when he is touched.

Most of us just risk heart disease with our diet choices.  But, in some countries, people are risking a whole lot more – that is, their lives – to dine on the ‘delicacy’ that is pufferfish meat.  It seems absurd to us too.  Absurd but true.

This pufferfish fits into the class of poisonous animals. There is enough toxins in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans. With no known antidote, you want to be careful touching or eating a puffer!

 

With venom, the story is a little bit different.

Venom

Venom involves toxins too.  The difference is the toxins are always injected directly into another animal.  Think stingers, fangs, spines.  Think spiders, snakes, jellyfish.

Snakes are venomous. They inject toxins through their fangs. Here is a close up of a snake being ‘milked’ for its venom to learn more about its toxicity.

 

 

The difference between poison and venom

To summarise, the difference between poison and venom is all about how toxins are delivered from one animal to another.

We think Tiny Nair, Cardiologist at PRS Hospital, Trivandrum sums it up rather poetically:

Venomous – it bites, you die.

Poisonous – you bite, you die

That folks is what we call language busting (think mythbusters, but more chatty).

And while we’re at it, if someone responds to the question “How are you?” with the word “fine” through gritted teeth, they are neither fine nor good.  Sometimes even those words aren’t interchangeable.

That’s the beauty of language. It always keeps you on your toes.



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