Although both venomous and poisonous animals produce a toxin that can be harmful and even lethal to another organism, the means they go about it is very different. Venomous organisms inject their toxins into other organisms, whereas poisonous ones deliver their toxins when touched or consumed.
Venomous critters typically forcefully and directly deliver their toxins to potential predators or prey by biting, stinging, or stabbing them. Meanwhile poisonous organisms do not deliver their toxins directly: they typically take a more passive approach. They typically wait for direct contact or consumption by potential predators or prey in order to do some damage.
Here on Catalina, a number of organisms utilize venom or poison in order to survive!
For the Pacific Red Octopus, venom is essential to grab a meal. A red octopus is able to stun and kill their prey by spitting venom onto them. Their venom can even allow them to separate a snail’s flesh from its shell. How crazy is that?!
Another critter that utilizes venom here on the island is the Scorpion fish. These fish possess venom filled sacs along their dorsal fin to protect and defend themselves against dangers lurking in the waters.
Round rays are also able to pack a powerful punch by possessing a venomous barb on their tail in order to defend themselves from any potential prey! On the underside of their barb lies a groove that stores its venom. When the ray feels like it is about to encounter danger they will raise their tail and strike their threat; if their barb successfully pierces their threat they are able to release their venom.
Meanwhile Poison Oak is an organism that relies on poison, rather than venom, to do damage here on the island. A poisonous oil coats the leaves therefore if touched will slowly seep into ones skin and cause an uncomfortable reaction.
The California Scorpionfish gets its name from its sharp, venomous dorsal spines. It is a member of the family Scopaenidae, which includes some of the most venomous fish species in the world, like the lionfish. The scorpionfish’s spotted body and spiny appearance make it perfectly suited to blending in with the rocks and algae on the bottom of the ocean floor, and during the day they are most commonly found hiding inside rock crevices. At night, they emerge from the rocks to hunt and are voracious predators, skimming along the bottom of the ocean floor in search of crabs, fish, and even octopus!
Predators of the scorpionfish must face the wrath of the pressurized venom glands found inside its dorsal spines. Oddly enough, the California two-spot octopus, while sometimes preyed upon by scorpionfish, is also one of its biggest predators. The octopus’ soft body protects it from getting injured by the fish’s sharp spines. Other predators of the scorpionfish include sharks and rays. There is also a small commercial fishery for scorpionfish in California, as meat from the fish can be quite tasty if the venom sacks are removed correctly. The venom can produce symptoms similar to a rattlesnake bite in some people, so it is important to be cautious if you catch one while fishing.
Because scorpionfish are so good at camouflage, they will often employ ambush techniques to catch their prey, waiting in rock crevices, then quickly lunging out at the animals that pass by. They open their cavernous jaws and expand their buccal cavity to turn their mouth into a large vacuum cleaner that sucks up prey. Even though scorpionfish do swim more actively at nighttime, it is rare to see them leave the bottom of the seafloor. They lack a swim bladder, which means they are unable to control their buoyancy up and down the water column as most other bony fish can. Instead, their stone-like appearance and sedentary ways make them perfect inhabitants of the intertidal zone’s rocky bottom.
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