Am I Venomous or Poisonous?

“Is this snake poisonous?” I get asked this question a lot, and my answer is no. The snake isn’t poisonous, but it could be venomous.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when a TV commercial or movie refers to snakes as poisonous. I know I am probably in the minority, but I hope you eventually feel the same way!

Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix).

Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix).
Daniel Sollenberger, Georgia Department of Natural Resources ,

So, what is the difference between poisonous and venomous? Both poison and venom are toxins and can cause harm to humans. However, the difference between poison and venom is how they enter our bodies. Poison must be ingested, inhaled, eaten, or even touched, like eating a poisonous mushroom or touching poison ivy. Venom is injected and delivered by bites or stings—for example, fangs from a rattlesnake or getting stung by a stingray or a bee. The venomous animals must puncture the skin to be effective!

Eastern poison-ivy (Toxicodendron radicans).

Eastern poison-ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
Steven Katovich,

Avoiding Stings, Bites, and other poisonous or venomous things:

  • Wear long sleeves, pants, and shoes when outdoors or walking through vegetation.
  • “Leaves of 3, let it be” – this is a great saying to avoid poison ivy and poison oak, but in general, never eat or handle plants that you are unfamiliar with!
  • Stingrays typically sting whenever they get stepped on or are surprised by a human. Some recommend that you should do the ‘stingray shuffle’ whenever you enter the ocean. The stingray shuffle involves shuffling your feet in the sand as you enter the water. The idea is that the stingray will feel the vibrations and will move out of your way, lessening the likelihood of startling it.
  • In South Carolina, chances are that the snake you come across is most likely nonvenomous. South Carolina is home to 38 species of snakes, and only six are venomous. There are always a few exceptions in the animal world, but for the most part, when talking about snakes in the southeastern United States, they are venomous, not poisonous. If you do come across a snake, never handle it. Give the snake plenty of room to continue on its way. Always be mindful of where you place your hands, and watch your step! For more information, see Living with Snakes.

Now that you know the differences between poison and venom, you have my permission to correct the next person who tells you a snake is poisonous! I also hope you develop a new pet peeve when you hear a movie talk about ‘poisonous’ snakes!

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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