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Venom

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Waspstinger1658.jpg
Wasp stinger, with droplet of venom

"Venom" is a general term for the toxins used by several groups of animal species, for the purpose of defense and hunting prey. Most widely known are snakes, some species of which inject venom into their prey through hollow fangs, spiders, which also inject venom through "fangs", and stinging insects, which inject venom with a sting. Wasps and bees illustrate the two divisions in the definition above.

Bees use an acidic venom designed to cause pain to the stung, because their purpose is to defend their home and food stores, while wasps use a chemically different venom designed to paralyze the prey, so it can be stored alive in the food chambers of their young. The use of venom is much more widespread than just these examples, of course.

Antivenin (or antivenom) is used in the treatment of venomous bites. It is created by injecting a small amount of the targeted venom into an animal such as a sheep, horse, goat, or rabbit; the subject animal will suffer an immune response to the venom, producing antibodies against the venom's active molecule which can then be harvested from the animal's blood and used to treat envenomation in others. This treatment may only be used on a given person a certain number of times, however, as that person will develop their own antibodies against the foreign animal antibodies injected into them. Even if that person doesn't have a serious allergic reaction to the antivenom, his or her own immune system can destroy the antivenom before the antivenom can destroy the venom. Though most people never require one treatment of antivenom in their lifetime, let alone several, people who work with snakes or other poisonous animals may. Luckily, these people often develop enough antibodies of their own against the venom of whatever animals they handle to become immune themselves, without needing the help of non-human antibodies.

Snake venom is now being looked into as a potential cure for cancer.

It is important to note the difference between venomous and poisonous, which are two commonly confused terms with regards to plant and animal life. Venomous, as stated above, refers to animals who inject venom into their prey as a self-defense mechanism while the organism is still alive. Poisonous, on the other hand, refers to plants or animals that are harmful when consumed.

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