Taxonomy of Toxins

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Taxonomy is the study or practice of systematically classifying things, especially organisms.

Toxins are poisons generated by living organisms.

And those straightforward definitions are where the simplicity of the taxonomy of toxins ends. What is the difference between a poisonous animal and a venomous one? Is a jellyfish venomous or poisonous? Can an organism be both? Can plants be venomous? How is it that different species can produce the exact same toxin?

Types of toxins and their relative potencies are difficult to group into clean classifications--no classification of the infinite complexity of natural phenomena will ever be objectively correct. But as we fret about the task of fitting these toxins into neat little categories, we can also wonder at the beauty and diversity of the range of toxins that can paralyze, maim, and kill us, and the organisms that use them.

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