Curare Definition

Curare is a general name for a number of plant-derived poisons known to be used by South and Central American tribes. Curare is an alkaline poison, meaning that the poison is basic in pH, or exists above a pH of 7. There are many plants from which a curare can be derived, as many plant poisons have evolved to defend the plants from attack from mammalian herbivores. Hunters from South American tribes often used this to their advantage by tipping their arrows in curare. The poison causes paralysis of the muscles and can eventually lead to death if the diaphragm becomes paralyzed.

  • Poison – Any substance which stops the normal functioning of an organisms, often created by prey to avoid predators.
  • Venom – A substance developed by predators which is injected into a prey item.


1. A hunter tips a dart with the secretions of a dart frog. The substance is acidic and extremely poisonous. Is this a curare?
A. Yes
B. No
C. Only if it can take down a monkey

Answer to Question #1
B is correct. A curare is derived from the chemicals present in plant leaves that have been condensed or otherwise extracted from the plant. Interestingly, these toxins are often derived from lower in the food chain. In the case of the frogs, the toxin is often received from the insects that it eats, which get it from the plants they eat. Although these toxins may have the same source, only the one made from plants is called a curare.