March 31, 2019
LIVING WITH POISONS
There is no doubt that we live in a world wrought with danger, and people have to be alert to traffic, terrorists, and thugs in addition to extreme weather and poisonous possibilities.
Perils also exist for wild animal life through venomous reptiles, toxic plants, and even minerals in some rocks can be lethal. Just about every species has some degree of toxicity or physical aspect dangerous to various organisms, although there are adaptations in nature that provide degrees of immunities to toxins.
Take the case of rattlesnakes and kingsnakes, both common in the Oroville area. Somehow, the kingsnake has developed an immunity to the rattler’s venom, and even seeks out the rattlesnake to constrict and swallow as food.
Once I was guiding a group of Japanese scholars around the Feather River Nature Center’s mossy boulders, and the girls started screaming! Sliding through the rocks at full speed was a handsome rattlesnake, and it plunged into an escape hole right before our eyes! The girls hadn’t seen a rattlesnake before, and then we came upon a large black-and-white kingsnake, sniffing, on the trail of lunch. What a show if we could have seen the finale! The most formidable rattler trying to flee with its head low to the ground, and the non-poisonous kingsnake hot on the chase, seeking a head-hold!
Some plants are deadly if eaten; in fact, the list is quite long, and many common foods carry toxins that can kill if eaten at the wrong time or in the wrong amount or wrong way. It’s been said “Poison can cure or kill– It ‘s in the dose.”
On the other side are animal venoms that can be injected into the blood stream to inflict an immediate crisis. That refers mostly to snakes in the reptile family since there are only two species of lizards that are venomous—the Gila Monster and the Mexican Beaded Lizard. The main difference between venomous and poisonous is that venom is injected straight into the bloodstream, such as through the fangs of a snake, while poisons, such as in certain plants, and some mushrooms, take longer to act by digestion.
Rated among the most deadly are some non-reptiles, including the Box Jellyfish [thought to be the most venomous animal on Earth,] the Cone Snail, and the Stone Fish, all of ocean waters. On some ten-most- poisonous animal lists are: 1. Box Jellyfish, 2. King Cobra, 3. Marbled Cone Snail, 4. Blue-ringed Octopus, 5. Death Stalker Scorpion, 6. Stonefish, 7. Brazil Wandering Spider, 8. Inland Taipan, 9. Puffer Fish, 10. Poison Dart Frog. Most lists consider the Australian Inland Taipan the most venomous snake…of about 3,000 snake species on Earth. About 600 species are venomous, with only 300 that are deadly.
Most plants contain varying amounts of toxins, even common edibles such as potatoes and tomatoes, and the trick is to moderate consumption and to know what’s good for you, and what’s bad. “Dosage.” Just as varying numbers of animals form immunities, so mankind may evolve more toleration to toxins.
That idea is hoped for in the case of coffee. More strict warning signs are being required for coffee and pastries containing Acrylamide, a carcinogenic chemical produced when the beans are roasted and the croissants are baked, are proposed in accordance with the passage of Proposition 65 in 1986.
Of 391,000 vascular plant species known and described on Earth, [ abt 2,000 more species are being discovered each year], only about 31,000 species have been studied for uses. Some plants are deadly, and many are right here in Butte County. The U.S has more than 500 major poisonous plants. Castor Bean and Oleander, and many right in your garden are among the dangerous. Passion Flower, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Poison Hemlock, Lilies, Trumpet Vine, for instance. Poisonous plants have been introduced around the world as ornamental flowers along with food plants. Let your research begin!
“Know there is richest honey in poison flowers.” –John Keats
“One man’s poison oak is another animals spinach”–Henry Ward Beecher
Artist, photographer and writer, Rex Burress, worked as a naturalist for the city of Oakland for forty years, 25 of those years as the Naturalist on staff at the Oakland Camp in Quincy. Retired and living in Oroville, he continues to write, photograph and paint from his copious observations of the natural world.