Difference between revisions of "Potions and Poisons"

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|2018questions=[https://scioly.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=266&t=10927 2018]
|2018questions=[https://scioly.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=266&t=10927 2018]
|B Champion=[[Solon Middle School]]
|B Champion=[[Beckendorff Junior High School]]
'''Potions and Poisons''' is a [[Division B]] event for the [[2018]] and the [[2019]] season. It was previously a trial event in [[Pennsylvania]], [[Washington]], and the [[2016 National Tournament]]. In Potions and Poisons, participants demonstrate their knowledge on specified substances', and chemical properties and effects with a focus on common toxins and poisons. [[Safety Glasses#Category C|Category C goggles]] are required in this event along with covering of skin from the neck down. An apron/lab coat is commonly used.
'''Potions and Poisons''' is a [[Division B]] event for the [[2018]] and the [[2019]] season. It was previously a trial event in [[Pennsylvania]], [[Washington]], and the [[2016 National Tournament]]. In Potions and Poisons, participants demonstrate their knowledge on specified substances', and chemical properties and effects with a focus on common toxins and poisons. [[Safety Glasses#Category C|Category C goggles]] are required in this event along with covering of skin from the neck down. An apron/lab coat is commonly used.

Revision as of 03:48, 2 June 2019

Potions and Poisons is a Division B event for the 2018 and the 2019 season. It was previously a trial event in Pennsylvania, Washington, and the 2016 National Tournament. In Potions and Poisons, participants demonstrate their knowledge on specified substances', and chemical properties and effects with a focus on common toxins and poisons. Category C goggles are required in this event along with covering of skin from the neck down. An apron/lab coat is commonly used.

Example of C goggles, which completely cover the eyes and protect from fumes

Topics covered

Event topics from the 2019 season rules include:

  • Ionic/Covalent bonds with relation to conductivity
  • Mixtures, solutions and compounds and separation of the components within them
  • Chemical and physical properties and changes
  • Balancing chemical equations
  • Dilution's effect on toxicity
  • Toxic spills and effects of their spread via water, wind, or gravity
  • Identification of various poisonous organisms along with their toxic effects (listed on the rules)
  • Effects/chemistry of common household toxins and chemicals

Lab Tasks

Lab tasks from the 2019 season rules include:


Chromatography is one of the most common labs that you'll see at invitationals. It is a bit hard to explain, so bear with me, please.

Chromatography is when you separate a mixture (i.e. markers, pens, organic juices) by passing it through a solution, which will most likely be water.

Chromatography diagram

There are many different types of chromatography such as gas or column chromatography, but in the lab task, you'll only need to know about simple chromatography.

To start, on your chromatography paper, you'll need to draw a start line and the ink spot. The start line should be above or near the water line. Your start line should be ~2-3 cm from the bottom of the paper for accurate results. You'll then attach the paper to a stick or lean it against a stick in the beaker. The solution (water) should travel up the paper and separate the sample into different colors.

After roughly 10-20 minutes, depending on your paper, your chromatography should be done and you should take it out to dry. After that, you should mark the water line's endpoint and where the colors ended. You'll have to distinguish the number of colors that are there and use the retention factor for each color. I recommend putting dots at the highest point of each color and measuring it to find the distance.

The retention/retardation factor (RF) is as follows: math distance moved by solute/distance moved by solutemath or in simpler terms: math distance between color and start / distance water traveled math

If it doesn't work out the first few times for you, don't worry. It takes practice to perfect this technique, hence why Potions is labeled as a practice event.

Mixtures of Reagents

Reagents are basically the starting materials used in chemical reactions. They're used to test if a reaction would occur. This type of lab is rare, but it can occur here and there.

These types of labs depend solely on the situation and doesn't have a set procedure like the other labs. On the test, it should describe the exacts about the lab and what to do.

Separation of Mixtures

This type of lab, like the previous example, depends solely on the situation. These mixtures are reversible, and you just need to determine which type of separation method to use.

Here is a list of different separation methods:

  • Filtration - separating an insoluble solid from a liquid using a filter
  • Chromatography - identify chemicals (coloring agents) in foods or inks through polarity
  • Evaporation - separating a solution of a solute and a solvent by evaporating the liquid
  • Simple Distillation - separating a liquid from a solution and saving it
  • Fractional distillation - separating a solution of two miscible liquids
  • Magnetism - separating mixtures with one part having magnetic properties
  • Separating funnel - immiscible liquids can be separated using their density. This process uses a funnel-like device
  • Centrifuging - fast spinning machine that can separate solids from liquids
  • Crystallization - separating solids by making them crystallize
  • Sedimentation - separating solids from liquid by letting it settle
  • Precipitation - creating a solid from a solution
  • Sieving - using particle size to separate mixtures by using a sieve
  • Decantation - separating liquids or homogenous mixture by letting one part settle and pouring the liquid out.
  • Leaching - extracting a solid by dissolving it in liquid
  • Winnowing - separating lighter solids from heavier ones use wind.


Shown is a diagram of serial dilution, as you can see the concentration goes down with each dilution

Dilution is simply the addition of a solvent without adding any solute. This is shown in the equation:

[math]C_1 \times V_1 = C_2 \times V_2[/math]


  • C1 = the initial concentration of the solute
  • V1 = the initial volume of the solution
  • C2 = the final concentration of the solute
  • V2 = the final volume of the solution

For example, if a solution has a 10% concentration of salt in one liter of water, adding another liter of water would halve the concentration of the salt, to 5%. This example can be shown mathematically using the above equation, where:

  • C1 = 10%
  • V1 = 1 L
  • C2 = 5%
  • V2 = 2 L

[math]10\% \times 1 L = 5\% \times 2L[/math]

[math]0.1 \times 1 L = 0.05 \times 2L[/math]

[math]0.1 L = 0.1 L[/math]

So, for example when told to make a sample with a 1:1440 dilution factor, you'd take the solution and dilute it by 12, 12, and 10 respectively (12 * 12 * 10 = 1440) to get to that certain dilution.

pH determination

pH is the potential of hydrogen, which basically is a number that decides how strong of a base or acid a solution is. The range of pH in water is 0-14, however, with other substances, it can go well below 0 or well above 14. In Potions, you'll probably be only working with the 1-14 scale. 0-6 pH is acidic, 7 is neutral, and 8-14 are bases.

To test the pH, you'd typically use litmus or pH paper. There are many ways of doing this, but the one that's most efficient is just dipping the paper in the water (about 10% of the paper should be submerged) and taking it out to dry on a spot plate. You would then match the color of the paper to the color on your litmus paper box/holder. If the paper just looks wet, it is neutral. Litmus/pH paper does not work with heavily dyed or dark colored liquids.

In pH, every number down (relative to water's scale) is 10 times stronger than the previous number. (I.e pH 3 is 10x stronger than pH 4; pH 4 is 100x stronger than pH 6; pH 6 is .01x stronger than pH 4)

Conductivity testing

For conductivity, it's quite simple. All you need to do is have your conductivity meter. Toroid.png

You can either make your own or buy one. Cheaper conductivity meters come with LED lights which indicate the conductivity of the liquid, (I.e. dimmer may mean less conductive, brighter may mean more conductive) whereas electronic ones, which are more expensive, display a number. Not all conductivity meters are made the same, SO READ YOUR USER MANUAL.

To use it, you just submerge the end part of the conductivity meter into the solution. DO NOT GET ANY LIQUIDS ON THE ACTUAL METER. After use, turn it off and clean the part you submerged with a wet paper towel.

  • Covalent bonds are not conductive, Ionic bonds are

Lab Equipment

The Atom

Subatomic Particles

  • Electron
  • Neutron
  • Proton

Shells, Subshells, and Orbitals

  • Shells
  • Subshells
  • Orbitals
  • Order of fillage

The Periodic Table

For additional information about the periodic table, please see Chemistry Lab/Periodicity.

Intramolecular bonding

A chemical bond is an attraction between two atoms that causes them to bond together, which can create molecules. The two types of bonding that the current version of the Potions and Poisons rules says to know are ionic and covalent bonding. Bonding occurs with electrons, in which the electrons are taken (ionic) or shared between atoms (covalent).


An electronegativity table

Electronegativity is a property of elements that is defined as the tendency of an atom to attract electrons. The difference between two atoms' electronegativities decides the type of bond they make. A chart known as an electronegativity chart can be used to find the electronegativities of different elements. Electronegativity increases as you go right and as you go up, therefore helium has the highest while francium has the lowest.

Ionic Bonding

Ionic bonding is a type of bonding in which one atom takes an electron from another atom. This type of bonding occurs when the difference in electronegativity is high. A common example of this is the compound NaCl, or table salt. The metal Na (sodium) bonds with the halogen gas Cl (chlorine). When solid, ionic bonds are typically not conductive. However, when liquid, it is conductive.

Ionic bonds are typically formed with a crystal lattice structure and have a high melting temperature. They're also water soluble.

Shown is a Venn diagram which demonstrates the difference between Ionic and Covalent bonds

To name a simple ionic compound, use the name of the regular metal, followed by the name of the nonmetal, with the latter using the ending "-ide". For example, NaCl would be written as sodium chloride.

Covalent Bonding

Covalent bonding is a type of bonding in which atoms 'share' electrons. This occurs when there is a low difference in electronegativity. Two very common examples are the molecules H2 and O2. Because the bonds are formed between two atoms of the same element, the difference in their electronegativities must be zero. Covalent bonds are liquids and gases, however, they are not conductive.

Covalent bonds are formed with a true molecule structure and has a low melting temperature. They are not water soluble (most of the time) and are odorous.

Covalent bonds can be nonpolar or polar. In polar covalent bonds, the atoms have different electronegativities, and therefore share electrons unequally. The more electronegative atom has a partial negative charge, while the less electronegative atom has a partial positive charge. In nonpolar covalent bonds, the atoms have similar electronegativities and therefore share the electrons equally. These are denoted with the δ symbol (Greek lowercase delta), using δ- for partial negative charge and δ+ for partial positive charge.

To summarize, polar covalent bonds share electrons unequally and therefore have poles. Nonpolar covalent bonds share electrons equally, and therefore do not have poles.

Intermolecular Forces and Dipoles

Intermolecular forces (IMF) are interactions between atoms or molecules that do not result from electronic bonds. They are comparatively very weak, but still play an important part in all forms of chemistry. The three main forms are London dispersion forces, dipole-dipole forces, and hydrogen bonds. All of these intermolecular forces can be referred to as van der Waals forces.

When discussing intermolecular forces, the word dipole appears a lot. A dipole movement is a measurement of the separation of charges on a molecule. This quantity is written as a vector, since it has both direction and magnitude. Permanent dipoles occur due to covalent bonds as a result of electronegativity. These dipole movements are what separate polar and nonpolar molecules. Polar molecules will have positive and negative areas referred to as [math]\delta^+[/math] and [math]\delta^-[/math]. Instantaneous dipoles occur in all molecules due to the movement of electrons. Since electrons are constantly moving, one part of an electron will always be more negatively charged. These instantaneous dipoles can attract each other, resulting in weak intermolecular forces.

London Dispersion

London dispersion forces can also be referred to as instantaneous dipole–induced dipole forces, and are exhibited by all molecules. These forces come from interactions between uncharged atoms and molecules, and are the weakest types of intermolecular forces.


Also known as Keesom forces, dipole-dipole interactions only occur in polar molecules. These forces occur when the [math]\delta^+[/math] area of a polar molecule is attracted to the [math]\delta^-[/math] area of another polar molecule.

Hydrogen Bonding

The strongest of the three types of IMFs, hydrogen bonds occur when a hydrogen atom is attracted to a strongly electronegative atom such as nitrogen, fluorine, or oxygen.

Mixtures, Solutions, and Compounds/Molecules


Mixtures are substances that are made by combining 2 or more mixtures. There are two types, homogenous and heterogenous. Homogenous mixtures are substances that have a uniform mixture throughout the substance. Some examples are lemonade, salt water, and air. Heterogenous mixtures are substances that have inconsistent component ratios throughout the whole. Basically, it's just not mixed very well. Some examples are trail mix, salad, and sand and pebbles.


Solutions are a type of mixture that requires a solute, a solid, and a solvent, a liquid. This type of mixture is often referred to as a homogenous mixture since the mixture is consistent throughout.


Compounds are molecules that have two or more different elements that are chemically conjoined together. H2O, CO2, and H2O2 are all types of compounds. O2 and He2 are not. Molecules are just a group of elements that are chemically conjoined.

Types of Changes

Physical Changes

Physical changes affect the appearance of a substance, not the chemical composition. Physical changes could be used to separate components of a mixture into their own individual parts. Examples of physical changes include tearing paper, boiling water, mixing sand and water, and melting an ice cube.

Chemical Changes

Chemical changes are the altering of a substance to form a new substance with a different chemical equation. Examples include burning a candle, digesting food, and rusting iron.

Types of Reactions

Chemical Equations

Chemical reactions are written out as chemical equations. A chemical equation has two parts: reactants and products. The atoms in the reactants are rearranged to form the products.

Chemical equations are written left-to-right with the products following the reactants, and an arrow sign (which is read as "yields") pointing from the reactants to the products. Each individual reactant/molecule is represented with a plus sign (+). The following equation is an example of a chemical equation, with the reactants on the left and the product on the right.

[math]2H_2 + O_2 \rightarrow 2H_2O[/math]

If there are multiple instances of a molecule, the number of molecules is written as a coefficient. For example, the product in the above equation is water or H₂O. There are two water molecules present, which is written as 2H₂O.

Balancing Chemical Equations

In a chemical reaction, the quantity of each element cannot change (If there are n atoms of element A in the reactants, there must be n atoms in the product). A chemical equation must have equal quantities of each element on either side of the arrow. As mentioned above, adding coefficients to molecules can show that there are those many molecules present. However, if an equation is given without coefficients, chances are that there is inequality on either side. Consider the example given above; however this time it is without coefficients:

[math]H_2 + O_2 \rightarrow H_2O[/math]

If you count the number of each element on either side of the equation, you will get the following:

  • Hydrogen on left: 2
  • Oxygen on left: 2
  • Hydrogen on right: 2
  • Oxygen on right: 1

This cannot be a balanced equation, because the number of atoms is unequal. To fix this issue, it is necessary to balance the chemical equation.

To balance a chemical equation, add coefficients to make the number of atoms of each element equal. For example, take again the previous equation:

[math]H_2 + O_2 \rightarrow H_2O[/math]

Notice that there is only one type of molecule as the product, meaning that it is the only molecule that a coefficient can be added to. A basic way to find the proper coefficient is to find a ratio between the two elements on one side and apply that to the other side. In this example, there are two times as many hydrogens as oxygens. In addition, all coefficients must be whole numbers. Therefore, the lowest coefficients would be a two in front of the hydrogen gas (on the left) and a two in front of the water. This gives us a balanced equation of:

[math]2H_2 + O_2 \rightarrow 2H_2O[/math]

An easy way to go about this is to guess and check the distinct elements first. For example:

mathC3H8 + O2 -> CO2 + H2Omath

you should start with C as it's only present in two compounds that don't involve O, which is involved in 3. If putting 3 at CO2 doesn't work, double it.

When the answer to the blank is 1, you should leave it blank. Only fill in >1. When the equation is already balanced, just write "balanced"

Poisonous Plants and Animals

The poisonous plants and animals listed in the 2019 rules are:

  • Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
  • Western Water Hemlock (Cicuta douglasii)
  • Autumn Skullcap (Galerina marginata)
  • Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger)
  • Oak (Quercus sp)
  • Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
  • Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus Fulvius)
  • Cotton Mouth Snake (Agkistrodon piscivorus)
  • Black Widow Spider (Latrodectus mactans)
  • Brown Recluse Spider (Locosceles recluse)

What is included is a general description of the organism, the poisonous effects, and a brief description of the poison itself. It is encouraged that you research further, however.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

Poison ivy grows most regions of the US, typically in woods, fields, and along roadsides, especially where vegetation is disturbed. It can be identified by its three thin, pointy, and shiny leaves. The leaf color depends on the season. In the spring, the leaves are reddish; in the summer, green; in the fall, orange to bronze.

An example of the "three leaf rule" for poison ivy.

Upon contact with the oil from poison ivy, an allergic reaction happens. Touching the plant itself is not the only way to contact the oil; touching gardening equipment or pets that have contacted the ivy can also spread the oil. Symptoms of a reaction include itching, redness, swelling, and blisters. It is important to note that the blisters are NOT contagious.

The poison, Urushiol, is an oily mixture of organic compounds with allergenic properties. It can also be found in mango trees, lacquer trees, and other Anacardiaceae plants. It gets its name from the Japanese word for the lacquer tree, urushi. The urushiol allows the tree to form a hard lacquer which is used in Asian lacquerware. It's a pale yellow liquid which has a boiling point of 200C. It can easily be removed with soap and water, provided that the skin hasn't absorbed it yet.

Western Water Hemlock (Cicuta douglasii)

Toxin/Mechanism- The toxin, cicutoxin and oenanthotoxin, are conjugated polyacetylenes. These unsaturated alcohols have a strong carrot-like odor and are noncompetitive antagonists for the gamma-aminocutyric acid (GABA) neural transmitter in the central nervous system. GABA role is to inhibit neuron excitability; essentially it has a relaxing function. Blocking this results in convulsing and grand mal seizures and eventually death can occur.

Symptoms/Conditions- Symptoms of toxicity are most often due to digestion of this plant and consist primarily of seizures, but other features include: nausea, diarrhea, tachycardia, mydriasis (dilation of the eyes), rhabdomyolysis (break down of muscle tissue that releases a protein into the blood), renal failure, coma, and respiratory impairment. Prognosis is dependent on responsive care.

Characteristics/Identification- Water hemlock is a meadow flower (up to 1 m high) in the carrot family with a distinctive white flower cluster that grows in an umbrella shape. Side veins lead to notches at the outer margin and it has a thick rootstalk with a number of small chambers that hold the poisonous liquid. The toxin is primarily found in the tubers and green seed heads, but leaves and stems contain cicutoxin in their early growth.

Region/Habitat- North America and Europe, found in wet seepage areas of meadows, pastures, and in streams.

Picture see to the right -

Western Water Hemlock

Autumn Skullcap (Galerina marginata)

Toxin - amatoxin  γ-amanitin(C39H54N10O13S), β-amanitin(C39H53N9O15S), α-amanitin (C39H54N10O14S)

Initial symptoms after ingestion - severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea may last for six-nine hours.  toxins affect the liver, results in gastrointestinal bleeding, coma, kidney failure, or even death, within seven days of consumption

Characteristics - cap - 1.7 to 4 cm. has edges (margins) that are curved in. As the cap grows, it becomes broadly convex and then flattened. Pale to dark over the disc and ochraceous on the margin (when young), but fading to dull tan or darker when dry. Translucent when moist. Gills are typically narrow and crowded together, becomes darker over time. stem - 3 to 6 cm long, 3 to 9 mm thick. Initially solid, becomes hollow from the bottom up as it matures. Ring located on the upper half may be sloughed off and missing in older specimens. Color initially whitish or light brown, but appears darker in mature specimens.

Habitat - grow on or near the wood, typically in groups or small clusters, and appear in the summer to autumn. Northern Hemisphere, found in North America, Europe, Japan, Iran, continental Asia, and the Caucasus. also found in Australia.

Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger)

Toxic parts - leaves, seeds, and roots

Toxin - Atropine and scopolamine, found in leaves. Apoatropine and cuscohygrine main alkaloids of the root. The main alkaloid in seeds is hyoscyamine, little hyoscine and little atropine. Toxic to cattle, wild animals, fish, and birds. Pigs are immune.

Symptoms/conditions - hallucinations, dilated pupils, restlessness, fast heart, seizure, vomiting, high blood pressure, and ataxia. Initial effects last for 3-4 hours, aftereffects last up to three days. Side-effects - dry mouth, confusion, locomotor, memory loss, and far sight. Overdosages result in delirium, coma, respiratory paralysis, and death

Characteristics - An annual or biennial. Grows up to three feet tall. Leaves are lance-shaped to oblong. Hair on bottom margin. Veins are prominent. Seen in June–September, however, the annual form flowers are in July or August and the biennial are in May and June. Flowers are brownish-yellow, purple center and purple veins. Hundreds of tiny black seeds, 1.5 millimeters long, are in egg-shaped fruit. Annual plants are shorter and weaker, produce weaker, later seeds. Produce 25,300 ± 4,004 seeds

Habitat - Native to Europe and northern Africa. Distributed nearly all parts of the north hemisphere, Europe, Asia, North America, Brazil. found on chalky ground and near the sea.

Oak (Quercus sp)

Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Toxin - There are 4 types of toxin. Type A : A neurotoxin known as canebrake. Type B : A hemorrhagic and proteolytic toxin. Type A + B: Intergrade between snakes with Type A and Type B. Type C : relatively weak

Symptoms/conditions - Myokymia, defibrination syndrome, numbness, lightheadedness, weakness, vomiting, blurred vision, sweating, salivating. Can be treated with CroFab Antivenom.

Characteristics - Adults are usually between 3 to 6 feet long. Their upper surface is a pattern of dark brown or black crossbands.They can have irregular edges such as zig-zag or V-shaped. Some snakes will be complete black due to melanism. Rigid scales along with a rough-skinned appearance. Has a pit on each side of the face.

Life - Active from late April to mid-October. Sheds skin around every 1.4 years.

Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus Fulvius)

Cotton Mouth Snake (Agkistrodon piscivorus)

Black Widow Spider (Latrodectus mactans)

Brown Recluse Spider (Locosceles recluse)

Past Plants and Animals

Plants and animals that have been included in past years are listed below.

2016-2017 (Trial Rules)
A common misconception is to believe that the Portuguese man o' war (a hydrozoan) is a jellyfish.

Wolfsbane (Aconitum sp.)

Wolfsbane is also known as Aconite or Monkshood. It is an herbaceous, perennial plant that grows well in mountain meadows. The flowers are large and usually blue, purple, white, yellow, or pink. Although poisonous, some species are used for ornamental purposes. Signs of poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tingling, and numbness. If a fatal dose is taken, death occurs within 2-6 hours. Poisoning can also occur just by touching the leaves without gloves, because the toxin aconitine is absorbed easily through the skin.

Jack in the Pulpit (Arum maculatum)

Jack in the Pulpit, also known as Indian turnip, is found in deciduous woods and floodplains. The flower is green and maroon striped, and the seed is bright red. The leaves and fruit contain calcium oxalate (CaC2O4) which is irritating to the skin, so gloves should be worn when handling this plant. Jack in the Pulpit is also irritating when ingested raw, and contact with the roots can cause skin blisters. However, the roots can be safely eaten when cooked.

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

Lily of the Valley is an herbaceous perennial plant that spreads through underground rhizomes. It flowers in late Spring, and the flowers consist of 6 white tepals (outer parts of the flower). The flowers have a sweet scent. The fruit is a small reddish berry. All parts of the plant, including flowers and berries, are poisonous. Any amount ingested can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, and blurred vision. Many cardiac glycosides, medications that increase heart output while decreasing contraction rate, are derived from this plant.

Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix)

Poison Sumac is a small shrub/tree that grows in wet clay soils such as swamps and peat bogs. It has reddish tinted leaves and greenish flowers. All parts of it contain the resin urushiol, which causes skin and mucous membrane irritation. Symptoms on the skin can include swelling, inflammation, and oozing. Poison Sumac can be especially dangerous when burned, because it can lead to pulmonary edema. The urushiol contained in this plant is similar to that contained in Poison Ivy, but the Poison Sumac urushiol tends to be more toxic.

Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates sp.)

Poison Dart Frogs are small and poisonous frogs. They inhabit northern South America, as well as some of Central America. Poison dart frog poison is neurotoxic and cardiotoxic, and can harm organisms that come in contact with the skin of the organism. This type of poisoning can cause convulsions and heart arrhythmia, which eventually leads to heart failure.

Portuguese Man o' War (Physalia physalis)

Portuguese Man o' War are usually thought of as a type of jellyfish, but they are siphonophores. Whereas jellyfish are single organisms, the man o' war is made up of many unique creatures. Not to be confused with Physalia utriculus, Physalia physalis is found in the Atlantic. The part of the creature that remains afloat while the rest of it is submerged is the pneumatophore. Portuguese man o' war can't move on their own and move with the wind, current, or tide, making them planktonic. The barbed nematocysts of this creature contain neurotoxic venom which usually cause red welts in individuals that come in contact with them. In extreme cases, man o' war stings can cause death. These nematocysts can be used by other organisms for beneficial purposes, however. For example, blanket octopuses many be seen carrying broken man o' war tentacles because they are immune to the venom.


Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)

Poison oak, found throughout western North America in states like California and Washington, is also known as the Pacific poison oak or western poison oak. It can be found in a variety of habitats, ranging from grasslands to conifer forests. It can survive in shady to full sun conditions and prefers elevations below 5000 ft (1500 m). Its form can vary from a dense bush to a vine. During the winter, the stems are leafless; in February, the leaves begin to appear, changing colors from bronze to green to pink. The leaves most commonly have 3 lobes, are 1-4 inches long, and have lobed edges, resembling a very glossy oak leaf. Flowers are white, forming from March to June, and the peak flowering season is in May. Many deer and squirrels consume poison oak with no reactions to the toxin.

The leaves and twigs contain urushiol, which causes itching and dermatitis. Burning this plant is very dangerous, as smoke can lead to internal injuries, along with external damage. Death-Cap Mushroom (Amanita phalloides)

The death cap mushroom has a large fruiting body, typically 2-6 inches across, that is usually pale green or yellow. It has a distinctive swollen and ragged base (volva) which can be hidden by leaf debris. The scent is often described as overpoweringly sweet. It is widespread across Europe, often found with oaks, chestnuts, and pines. In the US, it can be found on both the East and West Coast.

The death cap mushroom, one of the most dangerous mushrooms, is responsible for a large number of mushroom-related deaths each year. This is due to several factors; the death cap mushroom resembles edible fungi like the straw mushroom, and the toxins it contains (called amatoxins) cannot be reduced through cooking. Amatoxins cause renal and hepatic failure (kidney and liver), with symptoms including gastrointestinal distress, jaundice, and cardiac arrest. Treatment includes activated carbon to clear the GI tract and may require a liver transplant if liver failure occurs.

Jimson Weed (Datura sp.)

Jimson weed, believed to be native to Mexico, is a bush-forming herb with a bad smell. It has a long, thick root, and a branched yellow-green stem. The leaves are long and smooth, with the top side darker than the bottom. The flowers, occurring throughout the summer, are white to purple with a trumpet shape. The flowers generally open at night and have a pleasant smell. It is found throughout most moderate and warm climates, especially near wastelands and roadsides. Its name comes from Jamestown, Virginia, where it was consumed by soldiers during Bacon's rebellion.

All parts of this plant contain anticholinergics (atropine, hyoscyamine, scopolamine), causing symptoms such as delirium and tachycardia. Traditionally, it was used for asthma and analgesia, as well as for hallucinogenic effects.

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) Mayapple is an herbaceous perennial that can be found throughout the eastern US and southeastern Canada. It grows in colonies that originate from a single root. The stems are generally 30-40 cm tall, with umbrella-like leaves with shallow lobes. The flowers can be white, yellow, or red, appearing in early May. The unripe green fruit is toxic, but the ripe yellow fruit with seeds removed can be safely ingested. However, even large amounts of the ripe fruit can still cause damage. The roots and leaves are poisonous as well. The toxin it contains is known as podophyllotoxin, which can be used topically to treat warts. In traditional medicine, Native Americans used mayapple as an antiemetic and anthelmintic.

Ongaonga (Urtica ferox)

Ongaonga, native to New Zealand, is a large woody shrub that can grow up to 3 meters tall. Stinging hairs up to 6 mm long cover the stems, leaves, and stalks. The leaves are oppositely arranged and have a triangular shape with serrated margins. It is often found in temperate regions on the edges of forests and flowers from November to March. It provides food and protection for the red admiral butterfly (Vanessa gonerilla) and is eaten by animals such as goats and deer.

Ongaonga contains the toxin known as triffydin/tryfydin, which contains histamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. Reactions range from inflammation to blurred vision and paralysis. One human death from ongaonga contact has been recorded.

Cane Toad (Rhinella marina)

Cane toads are native to South and Central America. They are night foragers and mainly prey on insects and snails. They have been introduced to various places such as Australia to control insect populations, but for the most part, become an invasive species. Adult cane toads have toxins on glands on their upper surface, especially near the shoulders, and exude bufotoxin, which acts on the heart and central nervous system (CNS), when provoked.

Pacific Newt (Taricha sp.

There are four species of Pacific newt: T. granulosa (rough-skinned newt), T. rivularis (red-skinned newt), T. sierrae (Sierra newt), and T. torosa (California newt). All four are found on the Pacific coast, from southern Alaska to southern California. These newts generally have a brown upper body with a brightly colored belly, with granulated or grainy skin. Adults are nocturnal and semi to fully aquatic, while efts (juveniles) are mainly terrestrial. Adults' diets generally consist of invertebrates. All species possess tetrodotoxin, with the rough-skinned newt being the most toxic. However, toxicity can vary, even between the same species living in different regions. Toxins should not come in contact with broken skin or mucous membranes, and hands should be washed after handling to prevent ingestion.

Brown Recluse Spider (Loxosceles recluse)

The brown recluse is one of three North American spiders with venom that requires medical attention. They are around 6-20 mm long and generally light to dark brown colored. These spiders generally have a marking shaped like a violin on their back, with the neck of the violin pointing towards the spider's rear. Unlike other spiders, which have 8 eyes, brown recluses have 6 eyes that are arranged in pairs. They have a coating of fine hairs that create a soft, furry appearance. Their life span lasts 1 to 5 years, and juveniles take about 1 year to reach maturity. Females lay eggs from May - July in sacs of 50, which hatch in one month. Brown recluses build irregular webs that are located in dry, undisturbed places like garages and cellars. Their diet consists of cockroaches, crickets, and other insects. In North America, brown recluses can be found south of a line roughly connecting southeastern Nebraska to Ohio.

Brown recluse bites are often not initially felt, but require medical attention, as their venom is hemotoxic. Symptoms of a bite include nausea, fever, muscle and joint pain, and rashes. The venom can also have necrotic effects, with soft tissue destruction resulting in lasting scars. A typical treatment includes applying an icepack; medications have been used but the bite can usually heal without much intervention.

Fattail Scorpion (Androctonus australis) The fattail scorpion is native to North Africa, Somalia, the Middle East, Pakistan, and India. Its exoskeleton is covered in granules, which is hypothesized to allow it to withstand extremely strong sandstorms without digging a burrow. It grows up to 10 cm long with a thick tail and stripes. Although it is one of the most common scorpions in the pet trade, its venom is very potent and causes a number of deaths each year.

Common Household Toxins

The 2019 rules of Potions and Poisons mention the following toxic household chemicals:

  • Ammonia
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Bleach
  • Epsom salts
  • Vinegar
  • Nutritional supplements containing calcium and iron


The compound ammonia itself is a colorless gas with the formula NH3. However, it is most commonly seen in households as a cleaner, where the gas is dissolved into water. It is most dangerous when mixed with bleach, which causes the release of toxic fumes, which can cause serious respiratory damage, in addition to potential chemical burns, headaches, nausea, or vomiting.

Hydrogen peroxide

A typical "brown bottle" of hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a colorless liquid. Its compound name is H2O2. It is commonly used as a disinfectant, either for surfaces or for wounds. Because the concentration of most hydrogen peroxide used in households (usually in brown bottles) is low, at about 3%, ingestion of small amounts of hydrogen peroxide (diluted) does not usually cause any significant damage, apart from potential stomach irritation. However, ingesting a large quantity can cause more serious stomach irritation and may even cause chemical burns.

Furthermore, ingestion of a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide can cause much more serious symptoms and death in some cases.

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol (Isopropyl alcohol) is an alcohol with the formula C3H8O. It is most often used as a disinfectant. When ingested, it is metabolized into acetone. This can cause dizziness, headaches, vomiting, or even coma.


Bleach is a solution of the chemical compound sodium hypochlorite (NaClO) in water. It is a strong base, with a pH of 12.6. It is most often used as a household cleaner. As mentioned above, mixing bleach with ammonia releases dangerous fumes. Exposure to bleach on its own can cause irritation in the eyes, mouth, skin, and lungs, and can cause burns.

Epsom Salts

Epsom salts (Magnesium sulfate) are salts with the equation MgSO4. They have many uses, including uses as bath salts, as laxatives, face cleansers, cleaners, and as fertilizer. However, ingesting high levels of these salts can cause magnesium overdose, which can lead to slowed heartbeat, lowered blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, and coma or death in serious cases.


Vinegar is an extremely common household chemical. It is an acidic liquid, a mixture of acetic acid (CH3COOH) and water. It is used in cooking, cleaning, and medicine. However, concentrations of acetic acid higher than 10% can cause skin damage/corrosion.

Nutritional Supplements Containing Calcium and Iron

An excess of calcium, known as hypercalcemia, may result from overuse of calcium supplements. Symptoms of hypercalcemia include nausea, thirst, lethargy, and muscle weakness; in severe cases, cardiac arrhythmias and palpitations may occur.

Iron supplements are often taken for anemia, but iron poisoning can occur and be potentially fatal, especially in children under 5 years old. The GI tract and stomach become irritated and internal cell reactions may be interrupted due to an excess of iron. Vomiting and nausea are some of the earliest symptoms; if untreated, the liver may develop severe scars and fail. It can be treated through bowel irrigation or chelation therapy.

Environmental Toxins

Ferric Iron (Fe 3+)

Iron poisoning most often occurs when one consumes a large number of iron supplements or pills. Symptoms of iron poisoning are observable around 6 hours after consumption. These symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and dehydration. The main effect of iron poisoning is the corrosion of the intestinal lining. If untreated, it is fatal.

Copper (Cu)

Copper poisoning usually occurs when one consumes food or beverages with high amounts of copper. Traces of copper could be found in food if copper tools or pans were used during cooking. Poisoning also affects those who breathe in high amounts of copper dust or fumes. Symptoms of copper poisoning include abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, or yellowing skin and eyes.

Mercury (Hg)

Environmental Effects on Toxic Spills