Detect Poison and Disease says:

For the duration, you can sense the presence and location of poisons, poisonous creatures, and diseases within 30 feet of you. You also identify the kind of poison, poisonous creature, or disease in each case.

When they say poisonous creatures, do they actually mean “creatures that, when eaten, will poison you”, or do they mean “creatures that have attacks which deal poison damage”?


Unless defined in the rules, words in D&D 5e take on their normal English meaning. The definition of poisonous is:

  1. (of a substance or plant) causing or capable of causing death or illness if taken into the body. "poisonous chemicals"

  2. (of an animal) producing poison as a means of attacking enemies or prey; venomous. "a poisonous snake"

  3. extremely unpleasant or malicious. "there was a poisonous atmosphere at the office"

The spell allows you to detect "poisons, poisonous creatures" - "poisons" corresponds to the first definition, "poisonous creatures" to the second, it won't help you identify a toxic social environment.

A venomous snake that is safe to eat will be detected while alive but not once it is dead. A cane toad (which is not venomous but is toxic to eat) would be detected both while alive and dead.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does that mean that the spell will detect a maliciously gossipy person? That could be really useful for political intrigue. \$\endgroup\$ – Karelzarath Mar 10 '17 at 0:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ "A venomous snake that is safe to eat will be detected while alive but not once it is dead" - why? it is dead but it's still venomous (the venom is still there) \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Mar 10 '17 at 7:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Venom (often) isn't (particularly) dangerous to drink. It requires being injected into the blood stream/soft tissue. Of course, it's probably still not a good idea, in case you bite your tongue... \$\endgroup\$ – Sobrique Mar 10 '17 at 9:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd say that you should still be able to detect the venom after the snake is dead. It's basically just an "injury poison" at that point (DMG lists snake venom in that category). A character could, for example, step on the snake head with bare feet by accident or the venom could be harvested and used against another creature. Perhaps you meant that the spell wouldn't identify the dead creature but rather just the venom that it contained? In which case, I don't think dead creatures tend to count as creatures anyway, so the cane toad wouldn't be detected, just its toxin. \$\endgroup\$ – Tophandour Mar 10 '17 at 14:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ "[...] it won't help you identify a toxic social environment." [citation needed] "Bad news King, I cast detect poison, and your court needs reform. No, no poison, but the Duke is being very rude to the Archbishop." \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Mar 10 '17 at 18:33

"Poisonous creature" is a catchall term which means "any creature that possesses an attack which deals poison damage." As far as I know, there are no creatures that deal poison damage when consumed. Linguistically, "venomous" would be more accurate, sure, but that's not the term the game designers chose to use.

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    \$\begingroup\$ (Of course, if they'd written “venomous” we'd just see people arguing that the word “venom” isn't the word “poison” and therefore rules that say “poison” don't apply to venom…) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 10 '17 at 0:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Entirely too true! \$\endgroup\$ – Karelzarath Mar 10 '17 at 0:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Linguisticly, venomous would be more precise, not more accurate. All venoms are poisons, but not all poisons are venoms. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Mar 10 '17 at 13:26

It's probably creatures whose attacks deal poison damage. There's not much to go on here, but 2 points to consider:

The DM, under Crafting and Harvesting Poison (page 258) says:

A character can instead attempt to harvest poison from a poisonous creature, such as a snake, wyvern, or carrion crawler.

It doesn't say what kind of snake, and some snakes don't have poison attacks. However, it also lists a number of poisons in its Sample Poisons section that come from this process:

  • Carrion Crawler Mucus
  • Purple Worm Poison
  • Serpent Venom
  • Wyvern Poison

Serpent Venom specifically says that it comes from a giant poisonous snake, so all of these are creatures that deal poison damage on attacks.

The second point to consider is that there aren't any rules for becoming poisoned by eating poisonous creatures, so if it's meant to mean these, it's purely up to the DM to decide what creatures are poisonous or not.

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"Poisonous" means "venomous" in both PHB and DMG.

Player's Handbook, page 308:

Poisonous Snake
Tiny beast, unaligned
poison damage on a failed save

Dungeon Master's Guide, page 277:

Choose the type of damage based on how you imagine the damage being delivered. For example, if the monster is attacking with razor-sharp claws, the damage it deals is probably slashing damage. If its claws are poisonous, some portion of the damage might be poison damage instead of slashing damage.

Injury venom is called "poison". DMG page 257:

Poisons come in the following four types

  • Contact.
  • Ingested.
  • Inhaled.
  • Injury.
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