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Biological Insecticides: Definition, Uses & Examples

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Biological insecticides, or biopesticides, are crucial for maintaining the world's food supply! In this lesson, we learn more about the use of biopesticides and why they are so important.

What Are Biological Insecticides?

The world's population heavily depends on the agricultural production of plants and animals for food. Without this food source, many of us would be unable to survive. However, humans aren't the only organisms who enjoy eating these products; agricultural pests are common, and we use special substances called pesticides to control or kill them. Based on the type of pest we are trying to control, pesticides come in many forms. An insecticide is a type of pesticide that specifically targets insects that harm animals or agricultural crops.

For the purpose of this lesson, we are specifically interested in learning about biological insecticides, also known as biopesticides, which are pesticides made from natural materials that are meant to kill or control insects. These natural source materials may include animals, plants, bacteria, or minerals. Simply put, biopesticides are composed of living things, are made by living things, or are found in nature.

Types of Biological Insecticides

There are three main categories of biopesticides.

  1. Biochemical pesticides: this type uses substances that are naturally found in nature. Generally speaking, biochemical pesticides control pests through non-toxic mechanisms.
  2. Microbial pesticides: this type uses microorganisms as the active ingredient. These microorganisms are usually bacteria or fungi but can also be viruses, protozoa, or oomycetes.
  3. Plant-Incorporated Protectants (PIPs): this type uses substances that are produced by plants after genetic material, such as genes or proteins, has been added to the plant by humans. Plants are modified in this way so that they are naturally resistant to insect pests, and different types of genes and proteins can enhance a plant's resistance to different types of pests.

Uses and Advantages

In brief, biopesticides are used to control or kill some type of pest. This lesson focuses on insects that harm the agricultural production of animals or plants. Biopesticides can control insect pests by disrupting their mating patterns, attracting them to traps, or being sprayed on the crop as a pest repellant.

There are several advantages to using biopesticides instead of conventional pesticides. While biopesticides are made from naturally occurring substances, conventional pesticides are made from synthetic chemicals or agrochemicals. Typically, conventional pesticides are used to directly kill pests rather than control them. In contrast, most biopesticides are used as one component of an integrated pest management approach that enables the gradual control of an insect pest over time. Control is usually accomplished through indirect mechanisms instead of by directly killing the insect.

Biopesticides are usually less toxic than conventional pesticides. Most are capable of affecting only the target species or closely related species instead of broadly killing all organisms that come into contact with them. Additionally, biopesticides are often effective at low doses, and they decompose quickly. This means that the exposure time is lowered and less pollution is produced. As a result, biopesticides are often approved for use faster than conventional pesticides because they pose fewer safety risks.

Citronella Oil

An example of grass used to make citronella oil.
Grass used to make citronella oil

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