Development of Insecticides and its Side Effects

person putting a drop on test tube

If a vegetable is planted there is a nearby insect just waiting to eat it. This eternal dance between farmer and insect has been going on for centuries. Usually, it is the insect that wins. Throughout the ages there has been a constant battle between the gardener and those pesky insects. Early on farmers came up with means to control or eliminate insect infestations. Many of our natural insecticides that are in use today were developed and utilized by our ancestors. However modern-day synthetic chemicals have replaced natural remedies causing negative impacts on the health of humans and other animals. Thus, it is important that we take a quick look at the development of Insecticides and Its Side Effects over time.

Development Of Insecticides and Its Side Effects It is the insect who eats the plant first Photo by Carsten Ruthemann on Pexelscom
Development Of Insecticides and Its Side Effects – It is the insect who eats the plant first. Photo by Carsten Ruthemann on


It was discovered through trial and error that certain plants were natural insecticides and provided some relief from insect infestations. Often these natural insecticides were combined with certain minerals such as arsenic, copper and sulfur. Due to their lack of chemistry skills, as this was a budding science, these methods did not normally work well.

Development Of Insecticides and Its Side Effects A lady applying pesticides on her plants in the garden Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexelscom
Development Of Insecticides and Its Side Effects – A lady applying pesticides on her plants in the garden. Photo by Gustavo Fring on

Considering it was all done by trial and error the majority of the results were unsatisfactory because of ineffective application methods or the ratios were off possibly. The ancient Romans would burn a mixture of sulfur and plants that are natural insecticides. Apparently, they would walk through the fields with this smoking mixture and it would kill insects.

With their primitive chemistry skills newly found minerals are often added to the plants that are natural insecticides or they would add things like arsenic into honey and then use this to kill and control ants. Unfortunately adding too much of one thing and not enough of another never makes for good chemistry and the majority of these methods are either ineffective or potentially dangerous to humans and animals.

Modern synthetic insecticides

Around the late 19th century, it was common practice for farmers within the United States to use sulfur, copper acetoarsenite, calcium arsenate or arsenic to control insects within their fields. Although, these were not entirely successful methods, more than likely due again to chemistry and application issues.

Development Of Insecticides and Its Side Effects Copper acetoarsenite Image courtesy Wikimediaorg
Development Of Insecticides and Its Side Effects – Copper acetoarsenite, Image courtesy:

The big boom in synthetic insecticides began after World War II. These new chemicals, especially DDT, were not only inexpensive but highly effective. DDT was a broad-spectrum insecticide. Because it was so effective it became enormously popular and its use was widespread. Unfortunately, it was not known until many years later the detrimental effects it had on humans and animals. It has since been banned from use within the United States.

Side effects of synthetic insecticides

Since then, many synthetic insecticides have been banned or the very least deemed unsafe. This is probably due to the advancement of technology and the scientific communities’ ability to study the long-term effects of the synthetic chemicals used. It is no wonder that we are turning back and looking at what nature has to offer.

The turning back

Natural insecticides are once again being put on the front lines against insect infestations. Some forms of natural insecticides never fell out of use; the use of nicotine in its highly concentrated form has always been used as a natural insecticide, as well as the use of Pyrethrums.  Although many of the synthetic chemical insecticides were designed after their natural counterparts. So here we are, almost full circle and once again we’re looking to nature to provide us with the means to win in the battle of man vs. insect. Ironic, isn’t it?

About Manas Halder

I am a Geophysicist by profession and an enthusiastic writer as well.

View all posts by Manas Halder →