An insecticide is a substance used to kill insects. They include ovicides and larvicides used against insect eggs and larvae, respectively. Insecticides are used in agriculture, medicine, industry and by consumers. Insecticides are claimed to be a major factor behind the increase in agricultural 20th century's productivity. Nearly all insecticides have the potential to significantly alter ecosystems; many are toxic to humans; some concentrate along the food chain.
Insecticides can be classified in two major groups: systemic insecticides, which have residual or long term activity; and contact insecticides, which have no residual activity.
Furthermore, one can distinguish three types of insecticide. 1. Natural insecticides, such as nicotine, pyrethrum and neem extracts, made by plants as defenses against insects. 2. Inorganic insecticides, which are metals. 3. Organic insecticides, which are organic chemical compounds, mostly working by contact.
The mode of action describes how the pesticide kills or inactivates a pest. It provides another way of classifying insecticides. Mode of action is important in understanding whether an insecticide will be toxic to unrelated species, such as fish, birds and mammals.
Insecticides may be repellent or non-repellent. Social insects such as ants cannot detect non-repellents and readily crawl through them. As they return to the nest they take insecticide with them and transfer it to their nestmates. Over time, this eliminates all of the ants including the queen. This is slower than some other methods, but usually completely eradicates the ant colony.
Insecticides are distinct from non-insecticidal repellents, which repel but do not kill.
Systemic insecticides become incorporated and distributed systemically throughout the whole plant. When insects feed on the plant, they ingest the insecticide. Systemic insecticides produced by transgenic plants are called plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs). For instance, a gene that codes for a specific Bacillus thuringiensis biocidal protein was introduced into corn and other species. The plant manufactures the protein, which kills the insect when consumed.
Contact insecticides are toxic to insects upon direct contact. These can be inorganic insecticides, which are metals and include arsenates, copper and fluorine compounds, which are less commonly used, and the commonly used sulfur. Contact insecticides can be organic insecticides, i.e. organic chemical compounds, synthetically produced, and comprising the largest numbers of pesticides used today. Or they can be natural compounds like pyrethrum, neem oil etc. Contact insecticides usually have no residual activity.
Efficacy can be related to the quality of pesticide application, with small droplets, such as aerosols often improving performance.
Many organic compounds are produced by plants for the purpose of defending the host plant from predation. A trivial case is tree rosin, which is a natural insecticide. Specific, the production of oleoresin by conifer species is a component of the defense response against insect attack and fungal pathogen infection. Many fragrances, e.g. oil of wintergreen, are in fact antifeedants.
Four extracts of plants are in commercial use: pyrethrum, rotenone, neem oil, and various essential oils
Transgenic crops that act as insecticides began in 1996 with a genetically modified potato that produced the Cry protein, derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which is toxic to beetle larvae such as the Colorado potato beetle. The technique has been expanded to include the use of RNA interference RNAi that fatally silences crucial insect genes. RNAi likely evolved as a defense against viruses. Midgut cells in many larvae take up the molecules and help spread the signal. The technology can target only insects that have the silenced sequence, as was demonstrated when a particular RNAi affected only one of four fruit fly species. The technique is expected to replace many other insecticides, which are losing effectiveness due to the spread of pesticide resistance.
Many plants exude substances to repel insects. Premier examples are substances activated by the enzyme myrosinase. This enzyme converts glucosinolates to various compounds that are toxic to herbivorous insects. One product of this enzyme is allyl isothiocyanate, the pungent ingredient in horseradish sauces.
The myrosinase is released only upon crushing the flesh of horseradish. Since allyl isothiocyanate is harmful to the plant as well as the insect, it is stored in the harmless form of the glucosinolate, separate from the myrosinase enzyme.
Bacillus thuringiensis is a bacterial disease that affects Lepidopterans and some other insects. Toxins produced by strains of this bacterium are used as a larvicide against caterpillars, beetles, and mosquitoes. Toxins from Saccharopolyspora spinosa are isolated from