The term venomous and poisonous looks pretty much the same thing, but are technically different.
It’s easy to get confused by how we consider an animal as venomous and poisonous. But, if you understand the technical terms that we’ll know here in this post, then you will be pretty much confident to say if the snake is venomous or poisonous.
Let it be a venomous or a poisonous animal, both will secrete and use toxins as their chemical weaponry to protect themselves, or kill, destroy, feed, and digest their prey.
Well, here in this particular post we’ll talk only about the snakes and will make you clear about the topic for which you have landed here.
So, let’s get started…
The majority of the Snakes are venomous and a few are poisonous
The majority of the people will say “Snakes are poisonous.” On the other hand, those that have understood these two terms properly will correctly say “Snakes are venomous.”
It’s such that when you are in a conversation talking about dangerous snakes then it’s pretty much sure that there will be at least one person in the conversation who will ask whether the snake is poisonous.
Let’s get clear about it!
A majority of the snakes are venomous and only a few species are poisonous. It’s because the venomous snakes are widely seen that use their fangs to insert their toxin chemicals inside the body of their prey.
Biologically it is well-defined that the term venomous is only applied to those organisms that bite or simply sting, to inject their harmful toxins inside the body of another organism. The majority of the snakes bite so, they are called venomous.
Whereas the term poisonous is applied only to those organisms that can secrete harmful toxins from their body surface and so can unload these toxins when these poisonous organisms are ingested.
A vast majority of snake toxins are transferred by bite, so a majority is venomous. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any poisonous snake, meaning that very few snakes are truly poisonous.
For example, a Garter snake (Thamnophis) is a very poisonous snake as it is a very small and harmless snake if it bites, but it is known to secrete a toxin from its body and skin.
Likewise, the Rhabdophis genus of snakes (commonly called keelback snakes) feed on poisonous toads and its body absorbs and stores the toxins of the toad thus making keelback snakes poisonous.
Is there such a thing as a poisonous snake?
Yes, there is such a thing as a poisonous snake. It’s because there are a few but the presence of poisonous snakes can’t be ignored.
You will very rarely hear biologists saying “this snake is poisonous”, it’s because the majority of the snakes are venomous and only a few that they rarely encounter are poisonous.
In general, people say “Snakes are poisonous” which actually don’t sound so appealing as the majority of the snakes are venomous.
So, for the general people, it will always be just better to say “Snakes are venomous” and this sounds appealing and correct as per biological concepts are concerned.
Also, remember that not all venomous snakes are poisonous. Some are truly poisonous and not venomous at all as they don’t have any fangs and so they don’t bite.
Some species of snakes have hardly any teeth, whereas others have far more than humans. For example, Boa constrictors have 100+ teeth. Since they’re poisonous, Boas don’t have fangs.
Other examples of poisonous snakes are the 35+ species of the Garter snake. They have little to no teeth. The teeth if present is so small that they are barely visible. They are fang-deficient and so poisonous.
Yes, you can also call a poisonous snake as a non-venomous snake as well if you wish to. No error in that!
What are the key differences between Poisonous and Venomous snakes?
1. Poisonous snakes don’t bite to insert the toxins into the body of the prey. Whereas, Venomous snakes bite using their fangs to insert the toxin into the body of the prey.
2. Poisonous snakes may have many teeth, or may not have teeth, and the teeth if present is very minute and somewhat transparent. On the other hand, the teeth of venomous snakes are large and well-noticeable.
3. Venomous Snakes have fangs with poison glands attached to it. On the other hand, Poisonous snakes don’t have fangs, and the fangs if present are large and always remain folded to prevent them from biting themselves.
4. Venomous snakes carry toxins in their poison glands with ducts flowing through their fangs and coming outside. Whereas, poisonous snakes carry toxins in their skin glands.
5. Poisonous snakes have vestigial fangs whereas, some Venomous snakes may lack well-developed fangs but fangs are always present.
6. According to biologists, the term venomous is applied to organisms that bite (or sting) to inject their toxins, whereas the term poisonous applies to those organisms that unload toxins when you eat them or touch them.
7. Venomous and poisonous snakes both use toxins to defend themselves or kill their prey. These toxin chemicals are the poison that causes substantial, harmful physiological effects at small doses. But the way, how the venomous and poisonous snakes use their toxins are different.
8. The Concept: If you bite a snake and you die, it is a poisonous snake. And if the snake bites you and you die, it is a venomous snake.
Which is the most venomous snake in the world?
Inland Taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) is the most venomous snake in the world. It is also known as the fierce snake, western taipan, and the small-scaled snake.
The species is endemic to semi-arid regions of central east Australia. It’s one bite can kill a human in under an hour.
The venom of this snake is the deadliest. Its toxin is taipoxin which is actually a complex mix of neurotoxins, procoagulants, and myotoxins.
Only a drop of venom of the Inland Taipan can kill around 100+ humans at a time by paralyzing their muscles, inhibit breathing, cause hemorrhaging in blood vessels and tissues, while damaging the muscles overall.
If compared with any other snake, then it is to be noted that the venom of the Inland Taipan is by far the most toxic of any snake, much more than even that of sea snakes.
And if compared with any other reptiles, it has the most toxic venom of any reptile when tested on human heart cell culture.
It injects its venom with 100% accuracy and rapidly in an extremely fast and agile way, by striking instantly. Although it is not the most rapidly attacking snake, but the most venomous for sure.
It is a shy snake and always tries to defend itself when it encounters danger. It can also strike if provoked, mishandled, or prevented from escaping.
It stays in remote regions so very rarely comes in contact with humans. The Inland Taipan inhabits the black soil plains in the semi-arid regions where Queensland and South Australia borders lie.
How to better identify a venomous snake?
A venomous snake will have fangs to bite its prey. A venomous snake will have elliptical, slit-like eyes, rather than having round pupils. They will have thin, black, vertical pupils surrounded by a yellow-green eyeball.
If it is a marine venomous snake then its tail will be laterally compressed and they will have small fangs.
And, if it is a terrestrial venomous snake then the tail is rounded and cylindrical and won’t be laterally compressed.
If the snake has all small scales on the dorsal surface of the head, or if there is a loreal pit between the nostrils and the eye then it’s surely a venomous snake.
Venomous snakes are commonly thought to possess the quickest strikes. For example, Rattlesnake has an average strike speed of 2.95 meters per second, Cottonmouth snake has an average strike speed of 2.98 m/s, and the ratsnake of about 2.67 m/s respectively.
If you hear a snake rattling its tail by vibrating the tip portion of the tail then surely it’s a rattlesnake which is very venomous and deadly of course.
Venomous snakes typically have broad and triangular heads if you see very precisely near the snake’s jaw.
And moreover, you will also find that a venomous snake will have a bulbous head with a skinny neck. Such a morphology is because of the position of the snake’s venom/poison sacks underneath its jaw.
Can humans eat venomous snakes?
Yes, you can eat venomous snakes if you cut and remove the head part of the snake where the poison sacs are located. The part from the neck to tail is safe and meaty to eat.
Actually, in the venomous snake’s upper portion of the head, the sharp, long, hollow, or grooved fangs are located that are connected to small sacs placed behind its eyes. These sacs produce a poisonous liquid called venom.
If you eat the head portion of the snake, then the poison sacs can burst inside your mouth and digestive tract. Then the venom if gets entered into the blood vessels can lead to severe pain, swelling of inner muscles, paralyzation of the body, stop the working of neurons, and muscle fatigueness can occur which may eventually lead to death if not cured ASAP.
So, it is better advised and suggested to cut and remove the head portion of the venomous snake before you get them.
In case of poisonous snakes, it’s always better to ignore them as their body has stored poison in it that can be deadly to you if you ingest the snake with or without the head.
Some venomous snakes can have venom that is actually digestible if the venom gets mixed with the digestive enzymes of our digestive system. So, even eating the entire head of a snake which is where the venomous sacs are located is partially safe.
Although it’s super risky, but if you try to eat the head then the only thing you need to make sure is that you don’t have any cut or open wound in your mouth, or stomach, or else the venom can enter your blood and can cause dead.
It is always better and safe to eat by cutting the head away and then eating the rest of the portion of the venomous snake’s body after properly cooking it to kill any other parasitic microorganism as well.