This is a question more concerning the word poisonous and venomous than poison vs. venom.

I'm wondering about the following, specifically the last sentence:

  • Don't eat the plant, it is poisonous.
  • The plant has dripped poison onto you. Be careful, the liquid is poisonous.
  • The snake is venomous.
  • The snake has been milked to help us create an antidote. Be careful, the contents of the jar are poisonous (or should it be venomous?).

Can you use poisonous and venomous to describe both the creature/plant AND the substance it produces?


5 Answers 5


Poison is absorbed or ingested; a poisonous animal can only deliver toxic chemicals if another animal touches or eats it.

Venom, on the other hand, is always injected. Every venomous animal has a mechanism to inject toxins directly into another animal. Stab with tails. Slash with spines. Pierce with fangs or stings. Spike with spurs. Shoot with harpoons. Chew with teeth.-http://www.diffen.com/difference/Poison_vs_Venom

  • Don't eat the plant, it is poisonous. -correct
  • The plant has dripped poison onto you. Be careful, the liquid is poisonous. -correct
  • The snake is venomous. -correct
  • The snake has been milked to help us create an antidote. Be careful, the contents of the jar are poisonous. -correct and not venomous

What is the difference between poison and venom? If you drink venom, will it kill you?

skull and cross bones: poison are substances that are toxic (cause harm) if swallowed or inhaled. Venoms are generally not toxic if swallowed, and must be injected under the skin (by snakes, spiders, etc.) into the tissues that are normally protected by skin in order to be toxic. However, we do NOT recommend drinking venom! -http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/venomous_snake_faqs.shtml

  • 1
    The last point though, presumably drinking the venom wouldn't have any effect (since it must be injected) so is it really poisonous?
    – NibblyPig
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 10:46
  • 1
    That is an interesting point but I think it depends on the toxicity.
    – Third News
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 11:30
  • 1
    What about a blade coated with a substance? Would that be venom or poison?
    – Evgeni
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 11:50
  • Technically, mechanically introducing the venom (envenoming) into the bloodstream has the same effect...I need to consult!
    – Third News
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 11:53
  • Medically, the consequences of a venomous contact are termed 'local effects'(tissue area) and 'systemic effects' local effects'(blood vessels/lymph vessels. If the venom is introduced otherwise, or the tainted knife, it still has the same pathology.
    – Third News
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 12:23

By definition, venomous (in your sense of the word) describes an animal capable if injecting a poison (although my experience with stinging nettles may cause me to define it differently). Some venomous animals include spiders, bees, scorpions, jellyfish, some spiny fish, and the blue-ringed octopus.

venomous: (of an animal) having a gland or glands for secreting venom; able to inflict a poisonous bite or sting.

Therefore, venom (the secretory product) cannot be venomous.

Poison, however, is poisonous. Poisonous describes its potential effect on the body. Some poisonous animals include puffer fish, monarch butterflies, birds who feed on poisonous insects, etc. Poisonous plants make poison, but unless it is ingested (has an effect on the body), it does not act as a poison. If it is a skin irritant, I'd say it was a topical irritant. (Maybe too specific for you.)

Poisonous: (Medicine) having the effects or qualities of a poison; (of a substance or plant) causing or capable of causing death or illness if taken into the body (usually by ingestion or inhalation).

Informally, poisonous snake is synonymous with venomous snake. However, not all poisonous animals are venomous (poison dart frogs secrete a toxin which is one of the strongest poisons produced by an animal.) It is sometimes called a venom, but doesn't fit the usual definition of venom. It becomes a venom when used on dart-tips.

Edited to clarify and add: some venoms are poisonous if swallowed, but most are not. Snake venom is usually harmless if swallowed, but poison dart frogs are poisonous if swallowed.

I would say, vemon can be poisonous, but venom can't be venomous.

  • 3
    This answer seems to make a muddled distinction between animals and non-animals. Some animals are venomous (some snakes, some spiders) but some animals are poisonous (some frogs, Some fish). The puffer-fish is poisonous, the stonefish is venomous. Commented May 14, 2014 at 14:31
  • @RedGrittyBrick - you're correct. But I will incorporate this into my answer if it will clarify. Commented May 14, 2014 at 17:15
  • The first bit about venom is just wrong. What you included was a sense of the word venomous but not all senses of the word venomous. Venom the secretory product absolutely can be described as like-venom venomous even if it isn't has/uses-venom venomous.
    – lly
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 5:17
  • @RedGrittyBrick is correct that the edited answer still wrongly pretends poisonous plants need to be injested. They don't. You can call it a topical irritant so as to communicate the level of necessary caution effectively, but the substance itself is still a poison that is taken into the body upon contact with the skin.
    – lly
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 5:19
  • Similarly, poison used on a sword doesn't become a venom (except in flowery poetry) just because you're going to introduce it into your opponent's body in the manner of actual venom. The sword isn't part of your natural secretions or body, howevermuch you train until it feels like an extension of your arm.
    – lly
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 5:21


venom (1): poisonous matter normally secreted by some animals (as snakes, scorpions, or bees) and transmitted to prey or an enemy chiefly by biting or stinging; broadly : material that is poisonous

  • In general use, yeah, but you're only answering the title question. The answer to the question in the post requires a longer answer than "yes" or its brief answer is "no".
    – lly
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 5:15
  • Feel free and answer then.
    – mxyzplk
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 17:34
  • We include comments to help posters improve their answers. Anyway, you've seen it.
    – lly
    Commented May 12, 2023 at 10:36

Roughly, a poisonous animal (or plant, or anything else) is one which will have toxic effects on you if you eat it; a venomous animal is one that is capable of injecting poison into you, e.g., by biting or stinging. Thus, it is possible for an animal to be neither poisonous nor venomous, poisonous but not venomous, venomous but not poisonous (assuming you don't eat the glands that produce the venom) or both venomous and poisonous.

According to QI, the only poisonous snakes are the Japanese grass snake and the common garter snake.

  • QI is a joy to watch but never a reliable source for anything except putdowns and one-liners. Garter snakes are not poisonous at all, although they have a venom too weak to affect most humans. There are other snakes that are not necessarily poisonous but habitually eat other animals who are not poisonous to the snakes but would be poisonous to humans who caught and ate the snake at the wrong phase in the digestive cycle.
    – lly
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 5:07

Venomous creatures and poisonous creatures both produce at least one substance that is toxic.

However, for a toxin-producing creature to itself be classed as toxic, it would have to be ingested, or else handled in such a way that its toxin was absorbed through the skin.

  • 1
    I don't understand your second paragraph. You seem to be saying that something is only "toxic" if it has actually caused harm: by your argument, it seems that a pile of arsenic is non-toxic but, if somebody eats some of that arsenic, the arsenic within them is toxic. That is not how the word is used. Commented May 15, 2014 at 2:15
  • @David Richerby - I see how you could logically infer what you assert, but in the context of this discussion that interpretation makes no sense.
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 2:19
  • 1
    I genuinely can't tell what you're trying to say. If something produces toxins, it is toxic. And why are you explaining when a creature would be described as "toxic" anyway? The question is about the distinction between venomous and poisonous. Commented May 15, 2014 at 3:39
  • This answer mixes up the meaning of toxic and the over-precise sense of poisonous used by some scientists and many middle school biology teachers. Venomous and poisonous creatures both produce toxins. The venom is toxic. The poison is toxic. In general use, toxins and poisons are synonymous. In rigorous jargon, poisons are properly able to be readily passively absorbed and, in practice, are the toxins not otherwise labeled as venoms, which require active injection. No creature is toxic, aside from ones like microorganisms that can be completely readily absorbed whole, but any toxins are.
    – lly
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 5:13

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