What is a Systemic Insecticide?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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The basic idea behind systemic insecticide is to attack insects directly through their living food sources without harming the host species in any way. For example, the insecticide might be soaked into the dirt so that a plant can consume it. Once it’s consumed, the insecticide basically becomes part of the plant, and when insects attack, they will ingest the poison as well. This method of pest control can be very effective, but some people worry that it could harm the environment.

There are a couple of different ways for systemic insecticide to work. Sometimes the substances are designed to kill insects and pests, and sometimes it’s more of a deterrent. For example, some systemic poisons may only cause discomfort for pests when they eat, which could make them hesitant to eat from similar plants in the future, or at least cause them to leave in the short term and only feed for very short intervals.

Systemic insecticide will often last for weeks or months without a need to do another treatment. Eventually, the natural metabolism of the host will generally flush the poison from its system, and then another treatment is usually required. In this way, systemic solutions can be much better than conventional pesticides, many of which can be washed off in a simple rainstorm or blown away by strong winds.


Systemic insecticide is mostly known for its use on plants, but it is also sometimes used on animals. For example, there are systemic drugs used on dogs and cats that get rid of fleas. These often work very well, although there can be side effects. The chemicals are also sometimes used on cattle to help with certain parasites.

Some farmers avoid using systemic pesticide on food crops for fear that it will harm humans, but others use them anyway. In fact, use of these pesticides is considered relatively common for food crops. Tests have been performed to determine the safety of the chemicals, but some experts don’t trust the results and worry that people may be harmed unknowingly from long-term use.

Another potential danger of systemic pesticide is that it may be too effective. Some experts worry that these insecticides might wipe out whole populations of insects, which could have long-term consequences for the ecosystem. For example, some people worry that certain bird species, which thrive on insects, might be indirectly threatened.


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