Spider Close Up
Credit: Thomas Shahan

Poison versus Venom

While there are numerous everyday creatures in nature which should be avoided or approached with caution, there is a handful of species which are considered to be among the most poisonous or venomous in the world and should be avoided at all costs. These species are located in various ecosystems and environments from ocean waters to jungle habitats, commonly overlooked due to their ordinate camouflage or evasive nature.

The terms poisonous and venomous carry completely different connotations and are not to be mistaken as having the same meaning.  While both poison and venom are harmful substances, they are administered and react with the body in different ways.  Venom is a toxic substance which is transferred through an active bite or sting from a species, such as snake fangs or a scorpion tail.  Poison is transferred by absorption of the chemical through the skin, which can occur if a poisonous species is ingested or comes into general contact with another species.  Venom is typically used to incapacitate prey or an opponent, while poison is used primarily as a defense mechanism.

It is almost impossible to designate a single species as being the most venomous or poisonous in the world since new discoveries and scientific findings occur each day.  Regardless of global rank, the following list of species should definitely be avoided, or at the minimum, observed while at distance and with extreme caution. 

Box Jellyfish - Irukandji

The box jellyfish, also known as the sea wasp, is considered to be one of the top venomous species around with evolutionary venom so toxic that it has the potential to send its victims into shock, followed by cardiac arrest. Venom is administered through thousands of stinging barbs, called nematocysts, present along the jellyfish tentacles which release this species venom directly into a victim’s bloodstream. Once stung, the venom will attack a victim’s nervous system, causing pain throughout the entire body. 

Inland Taipan

The inland taipan’s venom works as a neurotoxin, causing paralysis and muscle weakness, along with toxins which prevent the recipient’s blood from clotting. Even though this species is included as one of the most venomous snakes in the world, it is typically non-aggressive and will not strike unless provoked.  Not to say this species should be handled on a chance encounter as shown by the late, great Steve Irwin in the video above. The taipan most certainly is extremely dangerous due to the lethality of its venom, but it generally will leave you alone provided you respect its space. Regardless, due the level of toxicity in this species venom, it makes the list among the top venomous species.   

Brazilian Wandering Spider

The Brazilian wandering spider is aptly named as it does not sit around on a web all day; rather it moves wherever it wants within its range in search of food or cover.  This species is characterized as being extremely venomous, fast, and aggressive, with a nervous temperament which predisposes the species to attack whenever threats are encountered.  Left untreated, a bite from this spider could result in death after just 25 minutes; however, fatalities from this species fortunately are rare. Readers with arachnophobia, scoot back a few inches before watching the video above. 

Golden Poison Dart Frog

This brightly colored and beautiful frog contains one of the most lethal poisons on earth. In nature, bright colors are typically synonymous with danger, and this species is no exception as its poison can be fatal to both humans and wildlife. A single frog may contain enough poison to kill over 8 adults.  Despite its name, this species does not shoot poisonous darts from its body. Native tribal people actually use the species’ secreted poison with their blowgun darts by dipping the tip each dart into the poison before use, which is how the species derived its name. 

Deathstalker Scorpion

The deathstalker scorpion, also known as the Israeli yellow scorpion, is considered to contain the most potent venom off all known and studied scorpion species with venom approximately three times stronger than a king cobra.  This scorpion has relatively weak pinchers, but makes up for this deficiency with the speed and venomous sting from its tail. The seemingly unnatural yellow color of this scorpion can be deceiving, giving it an almost plastic look as if it were a souvenir or toy, which has led to inadvertent stings from people attempting to pick it up. Despite its vicious appearance, this species will generally avoid human contact and only use its stinger if accidentally stepped on, threatened, or provoked. 

Blue-Ringed Octopus

This beautiful cephalopod remains brownish-yellow, dull color when at rest and only displays its iridescent blue rings when agitated or threatened.  Despite its docile appearance and no bigger than the size of a golf ball, this species contains a razor sharp parrot-like beak which can rip through most any wetsuit and deliver a nasty dose of its highly toxic venom.  The venom of the blue-ringed octopus is approximately ten-thousand times more potent than cyanide.  Fortunately for most scuba divers and curious recreationists, this species is not aggressive and will typically use its camouflage to blend into its surroundings. 

Black Mamba

Considered to be one of fastest and longest snakes in east Africa, the black mamba is well known for its aggressive temperament when threatened and lethality of its venom.  This species can move in speeds up to 12 miles per hour and have been measured in excess of 14 feet in length.  Most individuals of this species will choose retreat when threatened; using its high rates of speed to escape, and typically only uses its venom out of necessity (despite what is shown in the video above). The name black mamba is the result of the coloring within this snake’s mouth, a dark blue-black color, which is displayed when the snake feels threatened. 

Puffer Fish

This cute and unassuming fish is a beautiful species to see in the wild or in a diverse aquarium. Cute aside, this fish is also considered to be one of the most poisonous species on the planet with a toxin that is approximately one-thousand times stronger than cyanide.  Surprising enough, this toxic fish species is considered to be a delicacy among sushi fans (called Fugu); however, this should only be accepted from a licensed chef who has been trained in the preparation of this meal.  

Nature is full of amazing creature with amazing abilities.  A good general rule to follow with nature and wildlife is to observe each creature with respect and caution, especially if the species you encounter happens to be from those listed above, which comprise some of nature’s most poisonous and venomous species in the world.