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Publication #PI-80

Pesticide Toxicity Profile: Neonicotinoid Pesticides1

Frederick M. Fishel2

This document provides a general overview of human toxicity, a listing of laboratory animal and wildlife toxicities, and a cross-reference of chemical, common, and trade names of many neonicotinoid pesticides registered for use in Florida.

General

The mode of action of neonicotinoid pesticides is modeled after the natural insecticide, nicotine. They act on the central nervous system of insects. Their action causes excitation of the nerves and eventual paralysis, which leads to death. Because they bind at a specific site (the postsynaptic nicotinic acetylcholine receptor), they are not cross-resistant to the carbamate, organophosphate, or synthetic pyrethroid insecticides, which was an impetus for their development. As a group, they are effective against sucking insects, but also chewing insects such as beetles and some Lepidoptera, particularly cutworms. All neonicotinoid products are classified as general use and have been registered under EPA's Conventional Reduced Risk Program due to their favorable toxicological profiles.

Acetamiprid is for use against sucking insects, such as aphids and whiteflies, on leafy vegetables, cole crops, citrus, cotton, ornamentals, and fruiting vegetables. Ready-to-use formulations are available in addition to wettable powders and water-dispersible granules.

Clothianidin was registered in 2003 by Bayer initially for corn and canola seed treatment use. Additional approved sites include grapes, pome fruit, rice, tobacco, and turf and ornamentals.

Imidacloprid was first registered for use in the United States in 1992 and is possibly the most widely used insecticide of the group. It has a wide range of target pests and sites, including soil, seed, structural, pets, and foliar treatments in cotton, rice, cereals, peanuts, potatoes, vegetables, pome fruits, pecans, and turf. It is a systemic with long residual activity and particularly effective against sucking insects, soil insects, whiteflies, termites, turf insects, and Colorado potato beetle. Products are available in dusts, granules, seed dressings as flowable slurry concentrates, soluble concentrates, suspension concentrates, and wettable powders. The application rates for neonicotinoid insecticides are much lower than older, traditionally used insecticides.

Thiamethoxam's chemical structure is slightly different than the other neonicotinoid insecticides, making it the most water soluble of this family. Because of its greater water solubility, it moves readily in plant tissue. Products are labeled for soil, seed, and foliar treatments to a wide range of vegetable and field crops. Product formulations include emulsifiable concentrates, water-dispersible granules, and soluble concentrates.

Dinotefuran acts through contact and ingestion and results in the cessation of feeding within several hours of contact and death shortly after. It is effective on a broad spectrum of insects infesting cotton and vegetable crops. Dinotefuran was granted Organophosphorus Alternative and Reduced Risk Status by the EPA.

Toxicity

Neonicotinoids are classified by the EPA as both toxicity class II and class III agents and are labeled with the signal word “Warning” or “Caution.” Because the neonicotinoids block a specific neuron pathway that is more abundant in insects than warm-blooded animals, these insecticides are more selectively toxic to insects than mammals.

The most available toxicity data of the neonicotinoids is with imidacloprid. These data indicate that it is less toxic when absorbed by the skin or when inhaled compared to ingestion. It causes minor eye reddening, but is non-irritating to the skin. Signs of toxicity in rats include lethargy, respiratory disturbances, decreased movement, staggering gait, occasional trembling, and spasms. There are no accounts of human poisoning, but signs and symptoms of poisoning would be expected to be those similar for rats.

A chronic toxicity study showed that rats fed up to 1,800 ppm resulted in a No Observable Effect Level (NOEL) of 100 ppm. The EPA categorizes imidacloprid as a “Group E” (no evidence of carcinogenicity). In animals and humans, imidacloprid is quickly and almost completely absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, and eliminated via urine and feces within 48 hours. Of the neonicotinoids, imidacloprid is the most toxic to birds and fish. Both imidacloprid and thiamethoxam are highly toxic to honeybees.

Mammalian toxicities for neonicotinoid pesticides registered in Florida are shown in Table 1. Table 2 lists the toxicities to wildlife by the common name of the neonicotinoid pesticide. Table 3 provides a cross-listing of many of the trade names that these products are registered and sold by in Florida.

Table 1. 

Neonicotinoid pesticide mammalian toxicities (mg/kg of body weight).

Common name

Rat oral LD50

Rabbit dermal LD50

Acetamiprid

450

>2,000 (Tristar®)

Clothianidin

>5,000

>2,000 (Acceleron®)

Dinotefuran

2,000

>2,000

Imidacloprid

4,870 (Gaucho®)

>2,000 (Admire®)

Thiamethoxam

>5,000

>2,000

Table 2. 

Neonicotinoid pesticide wildlife toxicity ranges.

Common name

Bird acute oral LD50 (mg/kg)*

Fish LC50 (ppm)**

Bee LD50

Acetamiprid

PNT

PNT

MT

Clothianidin

PNT

PNT

HT

Dinotefuran

PNT-MT

PNT

HT

Imidacloprid

MT

MT

HT

Thiamethoxam

ST

PNT

HT

*Bird LD50: Practically nontoxic (PNT) = > 2,000; slightly toxic (ST) = 501 – 2,000; moderately toxic (MT) = 51 – 500; highly toxic (HT) = 10 – 50; very highly toxic (VHT) = < 10.

**Fish LC50: PNT = > 100; ST = 10 – 100; MT = 1 – 10; HT = 0.1 – 1; VHT = < 0.1.

Bee: HT = highly toxic (kills upon contact as well as residues); MT = moderately toxic (kills if applied over bees); PNT = relatively nontoxic (relatively few precautions necessary).

Table 3. 

Cross-reference list of common, trade, and chemical names of neonicotinoid insecticides.

Common name*

Trade names**

Chemical Name

Acetamiprid

Acetamiprid®, Assail®, Tristar®

(E)-N-(6-chloro-3-pyridinyl)methyl)-N1-cyano-N-methylacetamidine

Clothianidin

Acceleron®, Arena®, Belay®, Celero®, Clutch®, Nipsit Inside®, Poncho®

(E)-1-(2-chloro-1,3-thiazol-5-ylmethyl)-3-nitroguanidine

Dinotefuran

Alpine®, Dinotefuran®, Safari®, Scorpion®, Venom®

N-methyl-N’-nitro-N”-[(tetrahydro-3-furanyl)

methyl]guanidine

Imidacloprid

Admire®, Advantage®, Gaucho®, Merit®, Premise®, Touchstone®

1-(6-chloro-3-pyridin-3-ylmethyl-N-nitroimidazolidin-2-ylidenamine

Thiamethoxam

Cruiser®, Platinum®

3-(2-chloro-1,3-thiazol-5-ylmethyl)-1,3,5-oxadiazinan-4-ylidenene(nitro)amine

*Basic molecule; isomers not listed.

**Does not include manufacturers' prepackaged mixtures; major agricultural brands for basic manufacturers.

Additional Information

  • Bayer Corporation. 1991. Overview of toxicology data of active ingredient NTN 33893. Bayer Corporation. Shawnee Mission, Kansas, USA.

  • Fishel, F.M. 2005. Evaluation of pesticides for carcinogenic potential. UF/IFAS EDIS Document PI-37. Available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pi074.

  • Fishel, F.M. 2005. Pesticide toxicity profile: carbamate pesticides. UF/IFAS EDIS Document PI-51. Available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pi088.

  • Fishel, F.M. 2005. Pesticide toxicity profile: organophosphate pesticides. UF/IFAS EDIS Document PI-50. Available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pi087

  • Fishel, F.M. 2005. Pesticide toxicity profile: synthetic pyrethroid pesticides. UF/IFAS EDIS Document PI-54. Available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pi091.

  • Fishel, F.M. 2010. The EPA conventional reduced risk pesticide program. UF/IFAS EDIS Document PI-224. Available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pi224.

  • Nesheim, O.N. 2002. Toxicity of pesticides. UF/IFAS EDIS Document PI-13. Available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pi008.

  • Reigart, J.R. and J.R. Roberts. 1999. Recognition and management of pesticide poisonings, 5th edition. United States Environmental Protection Agency Publication EPA-735-R-98-003.

  • Seyler, L.A., et al. 1994. Extension toxicology network (EXTOXNET). Cornell University and Michigan State University. http://extoxnet.orst.edu/index.html.

Footnotes

1.

This document is PI-80, one of a series of the Pesticide Information Office, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date October 2005. Revised February 2013. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Frederick M. Fishel, professor, Agronomy Department, and director, Pesticide Information Office; Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF/IFAS does not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication do not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition. Use pesticides safely. Read and follow directions on the manufacturer's label.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.