Pesticide Alternative: Pheromones and a Bug’s Aimless Search for Love

The use of synthetic pheromones as pest control has been of discussion since the 1990s.  Pheromones are molecules released by insects that vaporize so that other insects of the same species can communicate and navigate.[1]  Some pheromones called releasers are responsible for sexual attraction and mating.[2]  Primers, on the other hand, “cause gradual changes in growth and development, especially in social insects, by regulating caste ratios in the colony.”[3]


Currently, there are five different techniques where synthetic pheromones are used:

(1)   Pheromones are released throughout an area, which confuses the male insect and does not allow him to find a mate to reproduce.  This leads to a large decrease in the reproduction of pests;

(2)   Male trapping;

(3)   Movement studies;

(4)   Population monitoring; and

(5)   Detection programs.[4]

The benefit of synthetic pheromones is the ability for manufacturers to target certain species of insects without harming others.  With the current bee crisis known as “colony collapse disorder,”[5] use of synthetic pheromones may become more prevalent.  So far this year, beekeepers have seen more bee deaths than ever in the past, some losing fifty percent of their hives each year as opposed to five to ten percent before 2006.[6]  Researchers blame a pesticide group called neonicotinoids, or “neonics,” which have been found in the hives and affected bees.[7]  Neonics affects a bee by blocking its nerve endings, causing it to become paralyzed and eventually starve to death.[8]  Recently, a coalition of beekeepers and other public interest groups sued the EPA to suspend the registrations for the dangerous pesticide group under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (or better known as “FIFRA”) because of the impact on bees, food, and their businesses.[9]


EPA already allows pheromones to be used as a pest control.  In order to promote the use of synthetic pheromones products, they allow for “flexible confidential statements of formula” for experimental use permits.[10]  This allows manufacturers to alter the active ingredients as needed during testing.[11] Currently there are 125 synthetic pheromones sold and of them sixty are readily available.[12]  With more incentives from EPA and the current lawsuit for protection of bees, we may see an expanded use of synthetic pheromones in the near future to limit pest reproduction.

[1] David M. Whitacre & Kristen R. Eads, Defending Pesticides in Litigation § 17:10 (2012).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5]Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder, USDA, (last visited Apr. 14, 2013).

[6] Michelle Miller, Deepening Honey Bee Crisis Creates Worry Over Food Supply, CBS, April 3, 2013,

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Press Release, PAN N. Am., Beekeepers and Public Interest Groups Sue EPA Over Bee-Toxic Pesticides (Mar. 21, 2013),

[10] Pesticide Registration Manual: Chapter 3 – Additional Considerations for Biopesticide Products, EPA, (last visited Apr. 12, 2013).

[11] Id.

[12] Whitacre & Eads, supra note 1.

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