Poison vs. Venom

How many times have I heard someone say, “Look, it’s a poisonous snake!”? Too many to count! Most people do not know the difference between poisonous and venomous, but there are some fundamental things you should know about these toxic terms.


Poison Oak
Poison Oak

Poison is defined as any toxic substance harmful to a living organism. For our purposes, we are focusing on the poison produced by plants and animals.

In the animal and plant world, poison is a toxin that must be ingested (such as eating something) or absorbed (such as through the skin). Poisons can have many potential effects, from simple skin irritation and burning, to stopping specific processes within the body.


Golden frog
The Golden frog, Phyllobates terribillis, the most poisonous frog in the world

There are many examples of poisonous organisms. Numerous plant species use poison as a way to protect themselves from animals that may want to eat them. There are plants all around us that are poisonous. The most obvious, locally, being poison oak, which can cause blisters and skin irritation upon contact. There are many ornamental plants that we may not even realize are toxic, including the oleander plant we see all up and down I-5, which possesses poison in every part of the plant including the flowers and the stalks. There are even poisons in many of the plants that you eat, just in small enough amounts that it will not cause harm to humans.

The Pitohui is a small bird native to New Guinea. They carry a neurotoxic poison in their skin and feathers. http://www.pitohui.com/

Poison in animals is generally used for the same thing, to protect the animal from predators or pests. Many insects are poisonous, such as beetles, caterpillars, and millipedes. The Monarch butterfly and Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly are poisonous if ingested. Amphibians, including frogs, toads, salamanders and newts, sometimes secrete poison from their permeable skin, some only mildly toxic, others incredibly deadly such as the poison dart frogs. There are some birds that are poisonous to the touch, such as the pitohuis – a bird native to New Guinea that secretes poison through its skin and feathers. Some of these poisonous animals do not actually make the poison themselves, instead getting it from the insects or plants that they eat.



Venom is a toxin that is delivered via a sting or bite. Venom must be introduced into the blood stream and carried through the vascular system to be effective. Venom can safely be swallowed without having any effect, as long as there is no cut in the mouth or ulcer in the stomach that the venom can go through, and the stomach acids will break down the proteins same as they do any other food.

Venom is a mixture of enzymes and proteins, chains of small molecules called amino acids found in living organisms. These chains are diverse in the pattern of the amino acids, causing the strands to be different and therefore causing a variety of effects to happen in the body. There are two types of venom. Neurotoxic venom affects the nervous system, cutting off the transmitters that send messages between the nerves and causing paralysis. Hemotoxic venom affects the vascular system, breaking down the tissue and causing hemorrhaging throughout the body. Many types of venom are a mixture of neurotoxins and hemotoxins.

Blue-ringed octopus
Blue-ringed octopus, a highly venomous octopus that can fit in your palm

In the animal world venom is quite common. Insects, such as ant, bees, and wasps, have a venomous sting that is mostly used for defense in these small animals. Arachnids (spiders and scorpions) are notorious for their venom that they use to subdue their prey – spiders via fangs and scorpions via stingers. Fish can be venomous. The beautiful lionfish is covered in spines with venom-tipped ends, while stingrays deliver their venom through a barbed tail tip. Many aquatic Mollusks (octopi, squid, and snails) and Cnidarians (jellyfish) use venom to incapacitate quick moving underwater prey.

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
Snuggles, Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
By Carli Davidson

Reptiles may be the animals that come to mind most often when we think of venomous creatures. Many snakes use venom to kill prey, and even begin digestion before the snake ingests the prey item. Some snakes have such mild venom you wouldn’t know it if you were bit, such as the garter snake. Other snakes have highly adapted venom delivery systems that use movable, hypodermic-like fangs to inject potent, fast-acting venom, such as rattlesnakes. Lizards can be venomous too; the Beaded lizard and Gila monster of the southwest United States and Mexican deserts have strong jaws with serrated teeth that they use to chew the venom into the prey, and may help in defense against predators in these slow moving lizards. Recent studies show that monitor lizards, such as the Komodo Dragon, also have venomous saliva.

Duck-billed Platypus
Duck-billed Platypus

The most surprising venomous animal is the Playtpus, a marsupial mammal native to Australia that looks like a cross between a duck and a beaver. The males in this unique species have spurs on their back feet that are used to deliver painful venom. It is thought that the venom is used during breeding season in an offensive manner to assert dominance over other male platypi.

Toxic substances are found throughout nature. It can be an effective way to protect both plants and animals, and are used by animals to subdue and even begin digestion of prey. Educate yourself about the species around you to keep yourself safe and avoid any dangerous plants and animals in your area. If an encounter occurs with any toxic organism, seek medical assistance. None of these plants or animals are out to get humans; we must learn to coexist with all parts of the natural world.

Adrienne John, Head Animal Trainer

How to Recycle and Reuse School Supplies


The school days are upon us, yet again! Every morning students are equipped with backpacks and lunches, full of all the tools they will need to learn well and be successful in school. Back to school shopping lists are full of all the necessities a student needs for a class: notebooks, pencils, crayons, rulers, binders and more! Open up a backpack and you’ll see that each one of these supplies serves a purpose as students study, take notes, and express themselves.

Now, let’s open up that lunchbox. School lunches either from home or the cafeteria fuel the minds of learning students making food one of the most important school tools. Every school year, each student eats 180 lunches at school; that’s a LOT of food! Ideally each lunch is well balanced and students consume everything that is in front of them… But we know that this is not necessarily the case.

Unfortunately, tons of school supplies end up in landfills each year. Half-used pencils, notebooks, crayons and pens, dried up markers, out-of-style backpacks and paper. Paper alone is responsible for up to 60% of waste produced by schools. After every lunch, wrappers, plastic bags and containers, leftover food and plastic utensils fill up the trash receptacles. Over 78% of this trash could be managed via recycling and composting programs.

So what can we do about this?

DIY Pencil Case
Pencil case made from recycled CapriSun drink wrappers!

Recycle what you can’t use. Dried up markers, inkless pens and short pencils can be recycled by programs like this one or help your school buy a box like this. Take left over note paper or pages with a blank side and make a new notebook by binding it!

Only buy what you need! After taking inventory of your supplies, only buy the things you don’t have and absolutely need. For things like backpacks and lunch boxes, reuse your old ones or check out thrift stores. Keep all supplies in a zipper bag or pencil box so they are organized and easy to find.

Buy sustainable supplies. Look for 100% post-consumer recycled products such as paper and plastic. Some backpacks and lunch boxes are made out of recycled materials too. Shop for food and products with minimal packaging and use reusable water bottles, containers and utensils for lunches. Aim to find the only thing missing in your student’s lunch is the food they ate!

Work with your schools, opt for electronic communication and encourage recycling and composting.

Lastly, share your own ideas on how to start a sustainable school year!

#CaffeinateforaCause – A one of a kind fundraiser with Dutch Bros. Redding!

CaffeinateforaCauseOn Thursday, September 15, Turtle Bay and Dutch Bros. Coffee are teaming up for the fourth #CaffeinateforaCause event to help raise funds for Turtle Bay. From 7 a.m.-9 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. on Thursday, all Redding and Anderson Dutch Bros. locations will donate $1 from every drink sold plus designated tips to Turtle Bay.

We can’t thank Dutch Bros. Redding, the Resner family (Erin and Chris are one of our Celebrity Barista pairs again this year!), and the Dutch Bros. crew for all their hard work, support, and energy that they bring, not only to #CaffeinateforaCause, but every day!

Chris Resner serving as a Celebrity Barista

Over 25 local celebrities will be serving drinks and competing to see who can drum up the most business in support of Turtle Bay. All funds generated will support Turtle Bay’s work in cultural and science education, from care and feeding of the animals to subsidizing school field trips to booking blockbuster exhibitions. Check out the break down to see exactly why your support (and fundraisers like this one) is so important for the Park:


$25 – Feeds Turtle Bay’s animals for one day

$50 – Subsidizes a school field trips for six students

$100 – Opens Parrot Playhouse immersive aviary for one day

$500 – Maintain the drought-tolerant botanical gardens and park grounds for one day

$1000 – Covers one day of hosting an awesome blockbuster exhibition!

If you can’t make it to Dutch Bros. on Thursday, you can still support! Just donate online and make sure to put the names of your favorite celebrity baristas in the “In Honor Of” area.


From The Vault: Campaigns & Elections!

Things are heating up on the campaign trail as candidates go head to head in anticipation of the national, state, and local November elections. In this age of TV ads, instant news, social media, web sites, and the ability to contribute electronically to the candidate of your choice, we take a step back to remember other means of campaigning. Some of these, like the handy lapel pin or poster, have not changed over the years. Others, such as campaign cards, seem a little less familiar. The ballot bag is a tried and true method of getting the votes back to be counted.

Take a break from the digital onslaught and enjoy some of the campaign and election artifacts from Turtle Bay’s collection. (And no, it did not escape my notice that you are on our website reading this blog electronically!)

Campaign Cards


Campaign Buttons

Candidate shirtNothing shows support like wearing a t-shirt for your candidate.

2000.2.3 Gift of Lupe & Carl Arness






Yard signs

Posters and yard signs are also popular. This was from the 1988 special election to save the Shasta County Library. It worked!

1989.26.1 Gift of Howard & Marion Adams




4Campaigns are not without controversy. Jesse Carter didn’t have a website, he had a typewriter. ­­

1992.7.7 Gift of Clay McClain





Ballot Bag

Ballot Bag

Ballot bags from local elections. Clearly those cards worked and W. O. Blodgett won an election for County Clerk at least once!

SHS1982.18.2 & 3 Gifts of Virginal Dare Hammans


The Vault is Always Open!


Curatrix Julia

Green World All Around Us: An Ode to Versatile, Beautiful Deer Grass

If a Grecian urn deserves an ode (which it does) then I think something as gorgeous and seemingly timeless as deer grass also deserves high praise. (However you won’t find it here in verse!) Our native deer grass Muhlenbergia rigens is one of those beautiful, all-purpose plants that can thrive in most places; with the exception of constantly wet or very shady areas. For this, and its need for little attention (maintenance), it has earned my everlasting admiration.

Deer Grass
In the west Botanical Gardens parking lot, a stand of Muhlenbergia rigens Deer Grass are lit up in the evening light.

Deer grass can eventually grow up to 6’ wide and, including the seed heads, 4-5’ tall. In spite of its sort of ambiguous common name, deer grass is not browsed by deer; in the wild deer (does) can successfully hide their fawns by bedding them down in a stand of several deer grass. Other wildlife also utilize deer grass. For example: ducks build a nest under one of the deer grass in our nursery, and we often see quail families running from one deer grass to the next in the gardens at this time of year (a really adorable sight).

Deer grass is a very a low maintenance plant, not susceptible to most pests and diseases, and usually only requiring pruning once a year or even every-other-year (depending upon how many of the blades have died back), preferably in February. It can be divided in our area after frost has passed in the spring. However, seedlings do tend sprout readily in the spring with a lot of spring rain or overhead irrigation (not as much with drip irrigation). Seedlings can be transplanted easily in the spring after threat of frost, but an older, larger grass can be harder to dig out and transplant as the roots are very tough and fibrous.

At one point at Turtle Bay, years ago, there were several places (such as the slope on the west side of the Sundial Bridge) that lost plants because of difficult conditions. Deer Grass to the rescue! In fact, at one point after a few years (I’ve been here since 2002), I stopped saying out loud to Horticulture staff “You know what would really go well in that area?” because I would hear a loud chorus of “Deer grass!” in response. And while the answer wasn’t, and isn’t always deer grass, it’s a good choice for a myriad of garden situations.

Because deer grass is such a useful, easy-to-grow California native plant we keep it in propagation throughout the year in the Arboretum & Botanical Gardens Nursery. On September 24th the Fall Plant Sale will feature: drought tolerant and some riparian perennial plants including California natives, grasses, many unusual flowering plants, groundcovers and shrubs. Free gardening advice will be available throughout the day from Arboretum and Botanical Gardens staff and volunteers. Come early – some plants sell out fast! Member PreSale 9-11 a.m. (Memberships available at the gate) and Public Sale 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sale includes a 20% discount for the public and a 30% discount for Turtle Bay Members!

Free admission to the Gardens all day.

Visit www.turtlebay.org/nursery for more inventory list

Turtle Bay’s McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Gardens Nursery – 1100 Arboretum Drive (Take N. Market Street, turn on Arboretum Drive. Take right fork in the road and park in parking lot on the left.) Enter Nursery through gate in parking lot.

Come and enjoy the many happy deer grass here at Turtle Bay on the grounds and gardens, as well as the arboretum!

Happy gardening, from the Horticulture staff at Turtle Bay.

Lisa Endicott – Horticulture Manager

Email Turtle Bay’s Horticulture department at gardens@turtlebay.org for more information and/or questions.

Arboretum & Botanical Gardens Nursery open year-round Fridays and Saturdays from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm.: Drought-tolerant plants, including a selection of California natives and others, are available at the Arboretum & Botanical Gardens Nursery, Visit our interactive Nursery inventory list at www.turtlebay.org/nursery .


Calling All Volunteers!

With our Volunteer Opportunities Workshop coming up tomorrow (Saturday, August 27, 10-11:30 a.m. at the Museum), we thought it’d be fun to do a quick round up of the posts we’ve had here on the blog about our amazing, incredible, priceless, Wonder-Full Volunteers. From our Teen Volunteer program to our Auction committee, we truly could not to everything we do at Turtle Bay without the dedication and support of our Volunteers.

If you’re interested in joining our team of Volunteers, head to the Museum tomorrow for our presentation of the Volunteer Program, with staff from throughout the Park giving brief overviews of the Volunteer needs in their department. RSVP to Liz Crain at lcrain@turtlebay.org or 530-242-3143.

And after you do that, check out our past posts about our Volunteers!

We Couldn’t Do It Without Volunteers – March 2015

Turtle Bay Volunteer
Turtle Bay Volunteer Carol Schultz (left) and Curator of Collections & Exhibits Julia (right) at the 2015 Auction.

National Family Volunteer Day at Turtle Bay – November 2015

National Family Volunteer Day
Volunteers hard at work on National Family Volunteer Day

Behind the Scenes: Our Development Team… and you! – November 2015

Bev and Faye
Fearless Leader, Bev Stupek, and Turtle Bay supporter, Faye Hall

Turtle Bay Auction – Powered by Volunteers! – March 2016

auction volunteers
Volunteers Linda Warren, Rhonda Jaegel, and Keri Bosworth setting up decor

Teen Volunteer Spotlight: Bailey Reed – April 2016

Teen Volunteer Bailey Reed
Teen Volunteer Bailey Reed

My Life with Animals: Auric Gets a New Home

We hear a lot about learned helplessness in our industry. According to the Encyclopedia of Britannica, learned helplessness is, “a mental state in which an organism forced to bear aversive stimuli, or stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are “escapable,” presumably because it has learned that it cannot control the situation.”

In other words, an animal tolerates or submits to a negative, even abusive situation because they have learned there is nothing they can do about it. We are cautioned to eliminate this, to make sure our animals always have a choice to participate or not. No matter what, keep it positive! Sometimes we were given examples of what appeared to be the most subtle things that were labeled learned helplessness. Being so conscientious of the animals in my care, I often feared that I could be creating this without realizing it.

AuricIt wasn’t until I met Auric, the Golden eagle, that I really understood learned helplessness. I had been working with him for only a week or two when he needed to be caught up and restrained to be brought to the vet for an exam. He was not trained to kennel on his own so I had to go in and restrain him and put him in the kennel. As I walked into his exhibit and approached him he jumped to a different perch–a normal reaction for a bird with a stranger approaching. I turned towards that perch and he sat looking at me. One small step after another, I closed the distance between us. I reached out to grab a hold of his legs. Just as my hand touched his legs, he went limp and dropped into my arms. He did not fight, he did not struggle. I had never seen a bird respond with such a severe case of learned helplessness; a tear ran down my face.

After his vet visit, I changed all the protocols for how we were to handle animals. We were only going to use positive reinforcement techniques. In this form of training, the animals get a choice to participate or not. If they don’t want to, they don’t have to. We started implementing this immediately with all the birds and within a few months we started to see a huge difference. Auric started coming to us when we would walk in and would even hop to our glove. We worked with him more and more to increase his comfort and gain his trust. We trained him to step onto a scale so that we could get weekly or even daily weights on him. He would take food from our hands.

AuricOne day while working with Auric sitting calmly on the glove, I was hand-feeding him tidbits of quail. As I went to hand him a piece, it stuck to my fingers and fell to the ground just as he went to take it. Apologizing to him, I quickly tried to hand him another piece. But for some reason I dropped it too. “Third time’s the charm,” I thought as I grabbed one more piece of food. I do not know what was wrong with me that day, but I was clearly being a klutz and as Auric went to take this last attempt, the piece of food slipped from my hand and fell to the sandy floor. Auric turned his head and looked at me, his hackles quickly raised on the back of his head. Before I could react, his right foot lifted from the glove and firmly planted itself, talons and all into my upper arm! OUCH! He quickly let go, but he let me know loudly and clearly that this “teasing” him with the treats was totally unacceptable. As the blood dripped down my arm, I turned to the other trainer, “Did you see that? He acted like a normal Golden eagle!” With excitement in my voice, “I have never been so happy to be footed in my life!” As he felt confident enough to let me know he was not pleased, we understood the breakthrough we had just experienced.

Auric continued to progress nicely, but there were a few things preventing us from moving forward: Auric was afraid of his jesses–the straps on his legs–being touched, and he was living in an exhibit that was fairly small and located right next to a busy playground and bathrooms. Every time the bathroom door would slam closed he would fly into the wall in a panic. Every time a child would clank the pump at the water wheel he would jump. We were gaining trust and making progress, but in order to really free him up and have him comfortable, we were going to need to change his environment.

AuricAfter a few years of working on it, we were finally able to build Auric a new exhibit. It was the first of many to come. The exhibit was to sit out in the Interpretive Forest. An area that was quite secluded within our Park, with tall Cottonwood trees towering overhead. Six utility posts attached with cabling and stainless steel, hand woven mesh creating the walls. A few small trees placed inside the exhibit, a “Y” branch created a natural perch for him along with a stunning old stump with a 3 foot diameter. Fluffy grasses scattered throughout and lining the front of the exhibit created the finishing touches. It was perfect!

AuricSpring of 2012 brought about the most amazing day. The exhibit was complete and it was move-in day. We had no idea what was going to happen. Would he settle onto one of his new branches calmly or would he flail around in fear and possibly hurt himself? Both were equally plausible. We carried him over to the new exhibit in a kennel and placed it in the exhibit. A small crowd of staff and volunteers stood nearby watching in support. We opened the door, he took a step out of the kennel, his wings opened and he flew right up onto the “Y” perch!! It was perfect, amazing, touching. I can’t even find the words to describe. My fellow trainer and I turned to one another and both of us started to cry.

Auric was with us for another year and a half in his new home. Although we never got him out for educational shows, we knew that we had made his life better and he lived out that last year in peace and comfort. Auric will always live on at Turtle bay through his legacy, Wildlife Woods, which never would have existed without the efforts to better his life.

Sharon Clay, Curator of Animal Programs

“One Touch of Nature Makes the Whole World Kin”