Biochemical Biopesticides: Pheromones
Pheromones are chemical signals that trigger a natural response in another member of the same species. Insects release pheromones to serve many functions. These include secretion of pheromones to to indicate the location of food sources, to warn others around about potential dangers, or locate a potential mate for reproduction. For example, female moths release a sex pheromone into the air to attract male moths. Male moths detect the pheromone "scent" and then follow it to locate and mate with the female. In agriculture, the problem is that mated female insect pests lays eggs and the emerging larvae damage crops.
Synthetic pheromones can be used in a number of ways to disrupt pest ecology and reduce crop damage. The first approach is to place small amounts of the female pheromone in lures to attract males into traps. By measuring trap counts, technicians can use that data to predict insect populations and decide when to implement the appropriate control methods.
Another, more common, use of synthetic pheromones is mating disruption. Growers saturate the environment with a sex pheromone so the male moths cannot easily locate females, disrupting their ability to mate. No insect mating means no fertilized eggs, and no larvae to damage crops.
Each year, over one million acres worldwide are treated with pheromones to control insect damage through mating disruption. Like many biopesticides, synthetic pheromones are very specific, so they help maintain beneficial insects. They also provide additional benefits such as no re-entry intervals, no pre-harvest intervals, labor and harvest flexibility, worker safety, and environmental safety.