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Despite its power and safety, natural Pyrethrum has certain limitations. The fact that it’s imported makes it comparatively expensive. Moreover, some insects are able to detoxify small amounts of the poison in their bodies. In addition, natural Pyrethrum tends to break down in sunlight, losing its effectiveness with outdoor use. Researchers have dealt with the detoxification problem by combining Pyrethrum extract with a liquid synergist, piperonyl butoxide, which fools the insect’s metabolism so that it doesn’t break down Pyrethrum in the body. Mixed with this chemical, a small amount of Pyrethrum can control insects effectively. As for the tendency of the substance to degrade in sunlight, this has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Pyrethrum is considered biodegradable and is sought for sensitive applications like the post-harvest treatment of fruits and vegetables. Natural Pyrethrum is so safe that the U. S. government approves its use on such insect-prone foods as tomatoes, even while they are on their way to the supermarket or processing plant. In 1946, the city of Amsterdam added Pyrethrum to the municipal water supply to kill insects that were threatening the system.
Because of its safety, Pyrethrum has long been preferred for household and agricultural application. Recent research is revealing new power and new uses for this old and trusted insecticide. Combined with a synergist, natural Pyrethrums are one of the fastest acting insecticides known. Even before it kills, it knocks down and paralyzes insects almost immediately. When it encounters Pyrethrum, the insect is thrown into a state of nervous disorder. It runs from it’s hiding place and scuttles around erratically, or adopts a confused flight pattern. Both responses show that the insect has lost all control of its central nervous system. This contact effect is called activation. Recent practice exploits the activation effect by adding small amounts of Pyrethrum to a routine residual agricultural formulation. Pyrethrum activates hidden insects, driving them from Cover and into contact with the main insecticide. This “flushing” action has been most successful in the control of such hard to hit pests as the cotton bollworm and the gypsy moth.
Recently, researchers have identified a subtle effect that occurs even before activation takes place. The jamming phenomenon suggests new uses for Pyrethrum in the battle against malaria. To show how jamming works, you need only a cage full of voracious female mosquitoes and some brave volunteers. Those who put their bare arms in the cage can expect to get some 20 to 50 bites per minute. But, if the cage is exposed to trace amounts of Pyrethrum for five minutes and the arm is then reinserted, no bites are recorded, even though the insects are otherwise normal. Apparently, small amounts of Pyrethrum can jam the “black box” of the insect’s food searching mechanism. Because of this effect, low level Pyrethrum applications have been shown to reduce the risk of malaria carried by indoor mosquitoes.
There’s more to Pyrethrum’s bag of tricks. The reason is not fully understood, but insects do not become resistant to natural Pyrethrum. After decades of use, no insect population has ever developed significant Pyrethrum resistance. Intense study of the Pyrethrum molecule has produced the related synthetic materials, Pyrethriods. But so far, science has not devised a synthetic that combines the speed, effectiveness, activation effects and biodegradability of natural Pyrethrum.
More information about pyrethroids and Pyrethrum:
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