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Test your knowledge on poison by taking this quiz!


Organisms use poisons to survive. Some use poison to capture prey. What’s another way they use poison?


to attract a mate


to defend themselves


to mark their territory

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ANSWER: to defend themselves

Poisons can protect an organism from getting eaten. In the natural world, poisons are just one of many tools of survival.

Question 1 of 10

Which of the following can be poisonous?


plants and animals


plants, animals, and bacteria


plants, animals, bacteria, and minerals

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ANSWER: plants, animals, bacteria, and minerals

Poisons are found in all kinds of living things, including fungi. Non-living substances can be poisonous too, such as minerals like mercury and lead and radioactive elements like radium and uranium. Even minerals like salt can be poisonous in large enough doses.

Question 2 of 10
Drops of mercury

Which disease is caused by mercury poisoning?


mad hatter disease





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ANSWER: mad hatter disease

From the 1700s through the early 1900s, hat-making factories used a poisonous compound containing mercury . Long-term exposure caused insane or “mad” behavior like tremors and extreme irritability—similar to the Mad Hatter’s in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Question 3 of 10

A substance may be harmless to one species and poisonous to another. Which substance is poisonous for dogs?







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ANSWER: chocolate

Chocolate may be a treat for humans, but it can be deadly for dogs! Theobromine is the ingredient in chocolate that gives humans a pleasant boost. For dogs, theobromine causes seizures and vomiting.

Question 4 of 10
(Left) red passion flowers. (Right) White warm with spikes on a plant.

The leaves of the passionflower are poisonous. When longwing caterpillars eat the leaves, they:


die from the poisons


get sick from the poisons


survive and become toxic butterflies

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ANSWER: survive and become toxic butterflies

Longwing caterpillars have evolved the ability to eat passionflower leaves. Their bodies chemically change the poison in the plant before it can harm them. The poison stays in the caterpillar’s body—even when it becomes a butterfly—and protects them from predators.

Question 5 of 10
gaboon viper

How do poisonous snakes like the Gaboon viper  get their poison?


by eating poisonous plants


by eating poisonous animals


by making their own venom

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ANSWER: by making their own venom

Some poisonous animals get their poison through their diet, but most, like snakes, have special glands to make their own poison. These animals also have something sharp to inject the venom, like fangs, stingers, or spines.

Question 6 of 10
Yellow frog with black eyes on top of a leaf.

Many poisonous animals like the golden poison frog are brightly colored to:


warn predators


hide from predators in colorful surroundings


 attract mates

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ANSWER: warn predators

Bright colors or markings warn or repel predators, which protects both the prey and the predator! This kind of coloration, called aposematism, is the opposite of camouflage.

Question 7 of 10
Snake on a rock seen from bellow.

Most poisonous snakes deliver venom with different kinds of toxins. Each poison affects the body in different ways. Hemotoxins attack the:







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ANSWER: blood

Hemotoxins are blood poisons. The hemotoxin in viper venom prevents blood from clotting, so the victim bleeds uncontrollably. For this same reason, viper venom has also led to anti-clotting drugs that keep a patient’s blood flowing.

Question 8 of 10
3 cone snails shells

Cone snails produce a neurotoxin that can paralyze prey by affecting nerve cells. These same toxins can be used as:




pain relievers



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ANSWER: pain relievers

By blocking signals in the nervous system, these neurotoxins can relieve pain. Cone snail toxins are also being studied to develop potential medicines for epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.

Question 9 of 10

Some of the “magical” effects of potions in myths and fairy tales could be explained by actual poisons. What kind of poison could explain Snow White’s “sleep”?


a poison that causes paralysis


a poison that causes feelings of flying


a poison that causes hallucinations

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ANSWER: a poison that causes paralysis

Poisons in pufferfish and snakes can cause temporary paralysis, making it impossible to move a muscle.

Question 10 of 10
Nice try! Not bad! Wicked! A killer score! You got out of 10 right on the first guess.
Image Credits:

background pattern, © AMNH / Amanda Zaldivar; mercury droplets, © Shutterstock; passionflower, © Shutterstock; zebra longwing butterfly caterpillar, © SuperStock/AGE; golden poison frog, © AMNH / T. Grant; black mamba, © H. Schmidbauer/Blickwinkel/AGE Fotostock; cone snails, © AMNH / C.Chesek.