An insecticide is a pesticide used against insects. They include ovicides and larvicides used against the eggs and larvae of insects respectively. Insecticides are used in agriculture, medicine, industry and the household. The use of insecticides is believed to be one of the major factors behind the increase in agricultural productivity in the 20th century.[1] Nearly all insecticides have the potential to significantly alter ecosystems; many are toxic to humans; and others are concentrated in the food chain.[citation needed]

The classification of insecticides is done in several different ways:[citation needed]

  • Systemic insecticides are incorporated by treated plants. Insects ingest the insecticide while feeding on the plants.
  • Contact insecticides are toxic to insects brought into direct contact. Efficacy is often related to the quality of pesticide application, with small droplets (such as aerosols) often improving performance.[2]
  • Natural insecticides, such as nicotine, pyrethrum and neem extracts are made by plants as defenses against insects. Nicotine based insecticides are still being widely used in the US and Canada though they are barred in the EU.[3]
  • Plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs) are insecticidal substances produced by plants after genetic modification.[4] For instance, a gene that codes for a specific Baccilus thuringiensis biocidal protein is introduced into a crop plant's genetic material. Then, the plant manufactures the protein. Since the biocide is incorporated into the plant, additional applications at least of the same compound, are not required.
  • Inorganic insecticides are manufactured with metals and include arsenates, copper compounds and fluorine compounds, which are now seldom used, and sulfur, which is commonly used.
  • Organic insecticides are synthetic chemicals which comprise the largest numbers of pesticides available for use today.
  • Mode of action—how the pesticide kills or inactivates a pest—is another way of classifying insecticides. Mode of action is important in predicting whether an insecticide will be toxic to unrelated species, such as fish, birds and mammals.



The insecticidal properties of the best known representative of this class of insecticides, DDT, was made by the Swiss Scientist Paul Müller. For this discovery, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1948.[5] DDT was introduced on the market in 1944. With the rise of the modern chemical industry, it was possible to make chlorinated hydrocarbons. DDT works by opening the sodium channels in the nerve cells of the insect[citation needed].


The next large class developed was the organophosphates, which bind to acetylcholinesterase and other cholinesterases. This results in disruption of nerve impulses, killing the insect or interfering with its ability to carry on normal functions. Organophosphate insecticides and chemical warfare nerve agents (such as sarin, tabun, soman and VX) work in the same way. Organophosphates have an accumulative toxic effect to wildlife, so multiple exposures to the chemicals amplifies the toxicity.[6]


Carbamate insecticides have similar toxic mechanisms to organophosphates, but have a much shorter duration of action and are thus somewhat less toxic.[citation needed]


To mimic the insecticidal activity of the natural compound pyrethrum another class of pesticides, pyrethroid pesticides, has been developed. These are nonpersistent sodium channel modulators, and are much less acutely toxic than organophosphates and carbamates. Compounds in this group are often applied against household pests.[citation needed]


Neonicotinoids are synthetic analogues of the natural insecticide nicotine (with a much lower acute mammalian toxicity and greater field persistence). These chemicals are nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonists. Broad-spectrum—systemic insecticides, they have a rapid action (minutes-hours). They are applied as sprays, drenches, seed and soil treatments—often as substitutes for organophosphates and carbamates. Treated insects exhibit leg tremors, rapid wing motion, stylet withdrawal (aphids), disoriented movement, paralysis and death.[citation needed]


Ryanoids are synthetic chemicals with the same mode of action as ryanodine, a natural insecticide extracted from Ryania speciosa (Flacourtiaceae). They bind to calcium channels in cardiac and skeletal muscle, blocking nervous transmission. Apparently only one such insecticide is currently registered, Rynaxypyr, generic name chlorantraniliprole [7].

Insect Growth Regulators

Insect growth regulators is a term coined to include insect hormone mimics and an earlier class of chemicals, the benzoylphenyl ureas, which inhibit chitin (exoskeleton) biosynthesis in insects. Diflubenzuron is a member of the latter class,used primarily to control caterpillars which are pests. The most successful insecticides in this class are the juvenoids (juvenile hormone analogues). Of these, methoprene is most widely used. It has no observable acute toxicity in rats, and is approved by WHO for use in drinking water cisterns to combat malaria. Most of its uses are to combat insects where the adult is the pest, including mosquitoes, several fly species, and fleas. Two very similar products, hydroprene and kinoprene are used for controlling species such as cockroaches and white flies. Methoprene has been registered with the EPA since 1975, and there are virtually no reports of resistance. A more recent type of IGR is the ecdysone agonist tebufenozide (MIMIC), which is used in forestry and other applications for control of caterpillars, which are far more sensitive to its hormonal effects than other insect orders.

Biological insecticides

Recent efforts to reduce broad spectrum toxins added to the environment have brought biological insecticides back into vogue. An example is the development and increase in use of Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterial disease of Lepidopterans and some other insects. Toxins produced by different strains of this bacterium are used as a larvicide against caterpillars, beetles, and mosquitoes. Toxins from Saccharopolyspora spinosa are isolated from fermentations and sold as Spinosad. Because these toxins little effect on other organisms, they are considered more environmentally friendly than synthetic pesticides. The toxin from B. thuringiensis (Bt toxin) has been incorporated directly into plants through the use of genetic engineering. Other biological insecticides include products based on entomopathogenic fungi (e.g. Beauveria bassiana, Metarhizium anisopliae), nematodes (e.g. Steinernema feltiae) and viruses (e.g. Cydia pomonella granulovirus).[citation needed]


Many plants have evolved substances, like polygodial, which prevent insects from eating, but do not kill them directly. The insect often remains nearby, where it dies of starvation. Since antifeedants are nontoxic, they would be ideal as insecticides in agriculture. Much agrochemical research is devoted to make them cheap enough for commercial use.[citation needed]

Environmental effects

Effects on nontarget species

Some insecticides kill or harm other creatures in addition to those they are intended to kill. For example, birds may be poisoned when they eat food that was recently sprayed with insecticides or when they mistake insecticide granules on the ground for food and eat it.[6]

Sprayed insecticides may drift from the area to which it is applied and into wildlife areas, especially when it is sprayed aerially.[6]


One of the bigger drivers in the development of new insecticides has been the desire to replace toxic and irksome insecticides. DDT was introduced as a safer alternative to the lead and arsenic compounds.[citation needed]

Some insecticides have been banned due to the fact that they are persistent toxins which have adverse effects on animals and/or humans. An oft-quoted case is that of DDT, an example of a widely used (and maybe misused) pesticide, which was brought to public attention by Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring. One of the better known impacts of DDT is to reduce the thickness of the egg shells on predatory birds. The shells sometimes become too thin to be viable, causing reductions in bird populations. This occurs with DDT and a number of related compounds due to the process of bioaccumulation, wherein the chemical, due to its stability and fat solubility, accumulates in organisms' fatty tissues. Also, DDT may biomagnify, which causes progressively higher concentrations in the body fat of animals farther up the food chain. The near-worldwide ban on agricultural use of DDT and related chemicals has allowed some of these birds, such as the peregrine falcon, to recover in recent years. A number of the organochlorine pesticides have been banned from most uses worldwide, and globally they are controlled via the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants. These include: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex and toxaphene.[citation needed]

Pollinator decline

Insecticides can kill bees and may be a cause of pollinator decline, the loss of bees that pollinate plants, and colony collapse disorder (CCD),[8] in which worker bees from a beehive or Western honey bee colony abruptly disappear. Loss of pollinators will mean a reduction in crop yields.[8] Sublethal doses of insecticides (i.e. imidacloprid and other neonicotinoids) affect foraging behavior of bees.[9] However, research into the causes of CCD was inconclusive as of June 2007.[10]

Individual insecticides







  • Rynaxypyr

Insect Growth Regulators

Plant derived



See also


  1. ^ van Emden HF, Pealall DB (1996) Beyond Silent Spring, Chapman & Hall, London, 322pp.
  2. ^ "". Retrieved 2011-01-05. 
  3. ^ "nicotine Proposed Revocation of Tolerances 12/01". Retrieved 2011-01-05. 
  4. ^ { Plant Incorporated Protectants]
  5. ^ Karl Grandin, ed. (1948). "Paul Müller Biography". Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2008-07-24. 
  6. ^ a b c Palmer, WE, Bromley, PT, and Brandenburg, RL. Wildlife & pesticides - Peanuts. North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. Retrieved on 14 October 2007.
  7. ^ "Pesticide Fact Sheet- chlorantraniliprole". Retrieved 2011-14-09. 
  8. ^ a b Wells M (March 11, 2007). "Vanishing bees threaten US crops". (BBC News). Retrieved 19 September 2007. 
  9. ^ Colin, M. E.; Bonmatin, J. M.; Moineau, I., et al. 2004. A method to quantify and analyze the foraging activity of honey bees: Relevance to the sublethal effects induced by systemic insecticides. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology Volume: 47 Issue: 3 Pages: 387–395
  10. ^ Oldroyd BP (2007) What's Killing American Honey Bees? PLoS Biology 5(6): e168 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050168 Retrieved on 2007-05-17.
  11. ^ a b c d "Cinnamon Oil Kills Mosquitoes". Retrieved 5 August 2008. 
  12. ^ "Cornelia Dick-Pfaff: Wohlriechender Mückentod, 19.07.2004". 
  13. ^ "Oregano Oil Works As Well As Synthetic Insecticides To Tackle Common Beetle Pest". Retrieved 23 May 2008. 
  14. ^ "Almond farmers seek healthy bees". BBC News. 2006-03-08. Retrieved 2010-01-05. 

Further reading

  • McWilliams, James E., “‘The Horizon Opened Up Very Greatly’: Leland O. Howard and the Transition to Chemical Insecticides in the United States, 1894–1927,” Agricultural History, 82 (Fall 2008), 468–95.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • insecticide — [ ɛ̃sɛktisid ] adj. et n. m. • 1838; de insecte et cide ♦ Qui tue, détruit les insectes. Poudre insecticide. N. m. Le D.D.T. est un insecticide. Une bombe d insecticide. ● insecticide adjectif et nom masculin Se dit d un produit utilisé dans la… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Insecticide — In*sec ti*cide, n. [Insect + L. caedere to kill.] An agent or preparation for destroying insects; an insect powder or spray. {In*sec ti*ci dal}, a. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • insecticide — (n.) substance which kills insects, 1865, from INSECT (Cf. insect) + CIDE (Cf. cide) …   Etymology dictionary

  • insecticide — ► NOUN ▪ a substance used for killing insects. DERIVATIVES insecticidal adjective …   English terms dictionary

  • insecticide — [in sek′tə sīd΄] n. [< INSECT + CIDE] any substance used to kill insects insecticidal adj …   English World dictionary

  • Insecticide — Étymologiquement, les insecticides sont des substances actives ou des préparations ayant la propriété de tuer les insectes, leurs larves et/ou leurs œufs. Ils font partie de la famille des pesticides, eux mêmes inclus dans la famille des biocides …   Wikipédia en Français

  • insecticide — insecticidal, adj. /in sek teuh suyd /, n. 1. a substance or preparation used for killing insects. 2. the act of killing insects. [1860 65; INSECT + I + CIDE] * * * Any of a large group of substances used to kill insects. Such substances are… …   Universalium

  • insecticide — Synonyms and related words: aborticide, acaricide, anthelmintic, antibiotic, antiseptic, bug bomb, carbamate insecticide, chemosterilant, chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticide, contact poison, defoliant, disinfectant, eradicant, fratricide,… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • insecticide — n. to spray, spread, use an insecticide * * * [ɪn sektɪsaɪd] spread use an insecticide to spray …   Combinatory dictionary

  • insecticide — [[t]ɪnse̱ktɪsaɪd[/t]] insecticides N MASS Insecticide is a chemical substance that is used to kill insects. Spray the plants with insecticide …   English dictionary

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