Neonicotinoids are becoming a hot topic. But what are they? What is so harmful about them? Do Neonicotinoids harm beneficial insects? Could you have Neonicotinoids in your garden? Today we are going to go over everything you need to know about Neonicotinoids so you can makes the best decisions when planning, growing, and maintaining your garden and landscapes.
What Every Gardener Needs to Know About Neonicotinoids
What are Neonicotinoids?
Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides related to nicotine that affect the central nervous system of insects paralyzing them and causing death. There are 6 neonicotinoid insecticides used on crops: imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, dinotefuran, acetamiprid, and thiaclopri, Besides being used commercially, they can be bought in many different forms at your local nursery or home and garden center. There is also a seventh neonicotinoid called nitenpyram that is used to treat livestock and pets for fleas and other external parasites.
In crop production they can be used as a soil drench, spray, injected in to tree trunks, added to irrigation water, added to the soil in granular form, or as a seed coating. Most commonly they are used as a seed coating. Because they are a systemic insecticide (it is taken up into the plants vascular system) every part of the treated plant is toxic. This includes the pollen and nectar. One single coated seed can kill a song bird. Very potent stuff!
Although the residue level in plants decrease over time, in some application toxic levels can persist for months and even years.
The Harm They Cause
Neonicotinoids are water soluble. This gives them the ability to move with surface water and/or leach into ground water. It also allows it to make its way into the waterways and contaminate the water supply, along with spray drift, and run off. At this point it goes on to kill water insects. Please keep in mind that these insects feed many other animals including fish, frogs, turtles, birds, and other wildlife.
Treated seeds, plants, pollen and nectar are eaten by birds, pollinators, beneficial insects and other wildlife poisoning their food supply. The decline in insectivorous birds is believed to be at least partially caused by Neonicotinoids.
It was initially believed that Neonicotinoids are not harmful to mammals because they act on postsynaptic nicotinic receptors that are only present in insects and do not cross the blood brain barrier. This is one of the reason they have been used so prolifically. More studies are being released that perhaps this conclusion is wrong.
I did find a study, Mammalian Susceptibility to a Neonicotinoid Insecticide after Fetal and Early Postnatal Exposure. The abstract of the study states:
"Our results demonstrate that transient exposure to a Neonicotinoid over the early developmental period induces long-lasting changes in behavior and brain function in mice."
Most research on the effects of Neonicotinoids focuses on bees so there is more information on how they are affected.
Even at low levels Neonicotinoids affect a bee's ability to forage for food, their sense of direction (they often can't find their way home), and their ability to locate flowers. Furthermore it can also be harmful to bee larvae. Sublethal levels in brood food reduces survival and pupation.
In some cases the the Neonicotinoid becomes more toxic to bees as it breaks down. Imidacloprid, for instance, breaks down into olefin-imidacloprid and becomes 2 times more toxic to bees.
Bees are hit from every direction. The use of Neonicotinoids contaminate their food supply, nesting materials and nesting area, their water supply, and their environment. They can come in direct contact through drift of seed coating dust that occurs during seeding, from contaminated dust that results from soil drenches, and spray drift.
What Crops and Plants Neonicotinoids Used On?
Neonics are commonly used in nurseries and in commercial food production as well as other industries.
"Since their discovery in the late 1980s, neonicotinoid pesticides have become the most widely used class of insecticides worldwide, with large-scale applications ranging from plant protection (crops, vegetables, fruits), veterinary products, and biocides to invertebrate pest control in fish farming."
In nurseries they are used on trees, shrubs, perennials, bedding plants, landscaping/ ornamental plants, and vegetables.
Comercially they are also used on a large variety food and livestock feed crops mostly via seed coatings.
As of 2013 neonicotinoids have been used In the U.S. on about 95 percent of corn and canola crops, the majority of cotton, sorghum, and sugar beets and about half of all soybeans. They have been used on the vast majority of fruit and vegetables, including apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes, to cereal grains, rice, nuts, and wine grapes.~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neonicotinoid
It is important to remember that bees are used to pollinate many of these crops.
Making matters worse, treated seeds are not under regulation. They don't have to go through the same testing as other pesticides.
How You Can Avoid Neonicotinoids
Neonicotinoid Free Nurseries and Seed Suppliers
You can find a large variety of seeds, starts, bushes, trees, herbs, tubers, and bulbs at the following places. There are pictures and links to many of their pollinator friendly varieties on my post Over 100 Plants for Pollinators and How to Choose Them.
Of course the post does not contain all the varieties of seeds and so on that they carry. Not even close but it is nice to see the pictures and growing information and be diretly linked to that product.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Prairie Moon Nursery
Peaceful Heritage Permaculture Fruit Nursery
Are neonicotinoids new to you? If not, Is there anything you doing to avoid them in your garden and landscape that I did not mention?
I hope that this post encourages you to avoid neonicotinoids in your growing spaces and practices. If you have any further questions or ideas then please share!
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Hello, I'm Jaci. I look forward to sharing my gardening and homestead adventures to help you reach your gardening goals! If you have any questions then don't be shy, I'd love to hear from you. Send me a message and I will be glad to help!