What are neonicotinoids?
Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticide that is chemically related to nicotine. Neonicotinoids are often simply referred to as “neonics.” Chemicals in the neonic family are neurotoxins and include acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam. These chemicals are the active ingredients in pesticides. Neonic mode of action is systemic. As a neuro-active insecticide, it binds to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Due to differences between invertebrates (e.g., insects, etc.) and vertebrates (e.g., humans, mammals, birds, etc.), neonics are selectively more toxic to invertebrates than vertebrates. They have become widely used due to their relative affordability, ease of use, wide availability, and lower toxicity to mammals and humans than traditional insecticides. Neonics are systemic, meaning that the crop absorbs the chemicals. Neonics can be applied as a pesticide spray to plants or as a powder on seed. Neonic covered seed is often referred to as ‘treated seed.’ It is considered less environmentally damaging to apply neonics directly to seed than to plants as a pesticide, as the treated seed is often applied at lower rates, is more targeted, and less susceptible to drift than when sprayed as a liquid. Some common crops that have treated seed options are corn, soy, sunflower, wheat, potato, and vegetables. Neonic treated seed prevents damage from common crop pests like wireworm and seed corn maggot which can devastate fields, resulting in total crop loss.
Following are three fact sheets related to neonicotinoids:
This work is supported by Crop Protection and Pest Management Program [grant no. 2021-70006-35509/project accession no. 1027204] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.