Can chemicals that turn bugs on replace those that kill them?
Cancer, neurological disorders, miscarriages and birth defects are some of the human health problems associated with the herbicides and insecticides farmers apply. Shrinking populations of birds and beneficial insects like bees and butterflies have also been linked to toxic chemical use in agriculture.
Still, bugs do invade croplands. Infestations can destroy entire harvests of fruits and vegetables, taking a significant toll on a farming operation, reducing the availability of food, and increasing prices for shoppers.
Organic agriculture is on the rise, but still represents less than five percent of overall food sales. According to some researchers, pheromones are safe and can be used by conventional and organic farmers alike to increase harvests and decrease pests.
How would sex chemicals from bugs work?
The “sex chemicals” (pheromones) found in bugs are the compounds female insects produce naturally to attract males and help the males find the females so they’ll mate.
By spraying an abundance of pheromones into the air over orchards and vineyards, reports the CBC, farmers actually confuse male insects into thinking that females are bidding them to “come hither” from many different directions. That confuses the males to the point where they wander about aimlessly, getting everywhere except to the females. Meanwhile, the females wait … and wait … and wait.
Unable to mate, the insects don’t reproduce. Problem solved.
One reason why pheromones are so appealing is that they are highly targeted. Each insect species produces a pheromone that is unique to it. In other words, the scent that a corn borer produces will only attract other corn borers – not honeybees or praying mantises or other beneficial insects.
Pheromones have no negative impact on people, either. They won’t pollute the air or contaminate groundwater, as wide-spectrum pesticides do. They don’t leave toxic residue on food. And they’re not hazardous for farmworkers, which means that laborers do not have to avoid fields and orchards when conventional chemicals are being applied.
Home gardeners can use pheromones, as well, by purchasing traps baited with compounds that mimic a pest’s sex appeal.
Written by Diane MacEachern
Listen to this Green Divas Radio Show episode featuring author and journalist Susan Freinkel talking about how pesticides impact our children.