The Crazy, it Burns. You might remember me mentioning a dust-up over pheromone spraying in California a couple of weeks ago. Now the spray date has been advanced, and even more paranoia has set in:

“They have apparently moved their spraying date up from August to June First–and seem to be moving ahead despite widespread public protest against the spraying. The spray (much like the ‘chemtrails’ that people worry about…but undeniably real) which they will aerosol-spray on millions of sleeping people on more than one occasion, contains more than the pheromone–it contains nine other ingredients, many of them quite toxic.”

I documented in detail some weeks ago why that statement is simply not true. (And that blog–pheromones are a sign of the end times? Eh??)

Here is an even more hysterical version:

People of the world, the US Government is planning to poison more than two million people, in California, using an untested biological “pesticide” this summer….There are many who believe that this spray is not directed at the moth population which the government says is the goal of the spray, but rather that it is directed at humans. There is a growing body of evidence to support this claim, considering that the moth itself does not cause any crop damage….

The LBAM infestation is a monumental hoax designed as a cover for an operation of devious goals to expose people to dangerous chemicals over several years.

Unfortunately, these posters also alerted me to the fact that some of the anti-pheromone paranoia is sponsored by a company I do business with–Credo, my wireless and long distance phone company. Credo claims that Checkmate is a pesticide, which is flat-out WRONG. Frustratingly, there is no obvious place to contact Credo to tell them just how wrong, in the giant universe of wrongness, they are.

Sigh. This is a biological control method. It is species-specific. It is applied in very tiny amounts. It doesn’t kill anything, and it isn’t a pesticide.
It is what all the environmentalists IN CALIFORNIA have been screaming for for decades.

I guess they just didn’t want it implemented in their backyards.

Related posts:

Mating disruption, pheromones,  and paranoia
Ask An Entomologist: how does mating disruption work?

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. I dunno, but “The Other End” sounds like a naughty name ;-)

    and while my mind is wandering in that area…a black lab is often quite skilled at mating disruption…well, ours is!

  2. As a Credo member I sent them an e-mail as well, what idiots. They really seem to have caught the stupid lately. The name change was seems to be the tip.

    My cell phone was just stolen so I just had to agree to a two year extension to get a new phone so I have no economic power to influence there action.

    Keep up the good work, I love your blog.

  3. A lot of people are claiming that there are sexual/menstrual side effects to the previous pheromone spray.

    Here’s one example

    I can’t see anything chemically that could possibly cause that–I can’t quite figure out what they are blaming, other than the fact of the spray itself.

  4. Meanwhile, I’ve been urging use of pheromones rather than BT spray for gypsy moth control here in Illinois. Our landscape is so badly fragmented here, that the tiny bits of remaining prairie habitat are island refugia for those leps that require prairie. Once eliminated by BT, there’s no place for them to re-establish a population from. I really hope that this bad information about pheromones doesn’t migrate from California to the Midwest.

  5. I know. I fear the same, Doug.

  6. It’s nice to read about the spraying from the perspective of an Entomologist who actually works with insect pheromones. I wanted to read something about it that was written by someone who I would consider an expert, not a newspaper journalist, and certainly not some fearmongering group screaming “OMG! Chemicals! Being sprayed by the Government on your BABY!” You’ve confirmed my initial impression of what will be happening around me later this year. Thank you.

  7. NOTE: this comment was moved from an unrelated post to here, where I’m pretty sure he meant to post it. See comments policy.

    Bug Girl while I agree that some people are being a bit crazy about the planned moth Checkmate spraying, with “are they really testing weapons on people” etc, I think the prospective spraying itself is needless, probably useless, and unnecessarily risky. You completely ignored, when you talked about the pheromone, the *other nine ingredients* in Checkmate. It’s those we worry about. We live in a miasma of industrial and manufacturing toxins. I see no need to add to it unnecessarily. Here is “the Bug Man” column on the subject, listing the toxins in the spray.

    Q: We live in the Bay Area. The insecticide Checkmate is scheduled to be sprayed over our city to interrupt the mating cycle of the light brown apple moth…

    A: This appears to be a very troubling issue for many Californians. My mailbox is almost full every day from inquiries about the light brown apple moth project…

    Here are some of the ingredients in Checkmate LBAM-F: (E)-11-Tetradecen-1-yl acetate, (E,E)-9, 11-Tetradecadien-1-yl-acetate; cross linked polyurea polymer; butylated hydroxytoluene; polyvinyl alcohol; tricaprylyl methyl ammonium chloride; sodium phosphate; ammonium phosphate; 1,2-benzisothiozolin3-one; 2-hydroxyl-4-n-octyloxybenzophenone.

    Ammonium and sodium phosphates can irritate or burn the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. So can tricaprylyl methyl ammonium chloride, which is used to mothproof clothing and degrades into chemicals that are more environmentally toxic. Polyvinyl alcohol has caused cancerous tumors in lab animals. It’s also labeled as an irritant – as is another Checkmate inert, butylated hydroxytoluene, which may be linked to a spectrum of symptoms including asthma, gene mutations and cancer. The little-studied 1,2-benzisothiozolin-3-one, a germicide, is considered highly toxic to green algae and marine invertebrates, according to a 2005 EPA re-registration document. And while there’s not much data on UV-absorbing 2-hydroxy-4-n-octyloxybenzophenone, the family of chemicals to which it belongs is linked to the disruption of hormones, including estrogen, according to a 2003 report in the Journal of Health Science.

    Another source said the light brown apple moth can devastate thousands of species of plants. If that were true, both Australia and New Zealand would be very barren countries, plantwise, and that isn’t the case.

  8. You haven’t provided any links to your sources–can you do that?

    I am not ignoring the components in the blend–I don’t think they are a risk because they are used in a very tiny amount.

    Perhaps you missed the other two posts on this topic:

    In fact, I know you haven’t read them from some of the stuff on your website–this is not a risk to endangered species in the Bay area. Frankly, it is several orders of magnitude safer to those species than pesticides.

  9. Mr. Shirley seems to be ignoring the fact that many organisms that are not a problem in their native environments become problematic when introduced to new regions. This is due usually to reduced predation and/or competition.

  10. Bug-girl,
    The problem does not seem to be the pheromone itself so much as the other ingredients and the fact that it is sprayed from overhead. It’s great that they want to do something with a pheromone instead of some toxic pesticide, but can’t the pheromone be distributed without spraying? I have heard that some areas will be treated in other ways. What are the alternatives to spraying?

  11. No one is paying attention to the amounts of the compounds involved.
    As I have said elsewhere, (see links above) the amount of chemicals used is tiny. While they *might* be a small risk in large amounts, they are not a risk at this low level.
    Once the chemicals are on the ground, they are relatively inert.

    You could try spraying from the ground level, but that wouldn’t get the coverage needed for effective control. And I think it would freak people out even more.

    I think this kerfuffle is a bunch of people who don’t realize they are surrounded by chemicals in daily life–natural and un-natural–and think that if they can just CONTROL their exposure to scary things, they will be safe.
    That’s a false sense of control, and impossible to achieve.

  12. Bug girl, you said that “Once the chemicals are on the ground, they are relatively inert.”

    Does this not change, when the rain washes these chemicals into the local rivers, and water supplies? What will this do to the life in the water, as well as the surrounding animals that depend on local water?

    Also, you said that the amount of harmful chemicals was very low. Are these chemicals, much like many others not-cumulative? This won’t be a one time spray, so over time the chemicals will still be ok?

    Its just seems so excessive for a moth that doesn’t seem to be doing much damage, and one that will surely be controlled by predators. Nature, i’m sure you know, has a way of fixing things. We are just so impatient. What concerns me the most, is the behavior in this situation. Will we just spray every time a new bug is introduced to our area?

    I also dont think the LBAM is as much a threat to our food supply, as using food for fuel (ethanol) is.

  13. I agree with you about ethanol.

    I don’t agree with the rest of this though. I will try to give you a longer answer about why later this week–too busy now.

  14. Ok, I had a moment to sit down.
    The LBAM spray is an emergency measure to try to stop the population from establishing itself. This means that it will not be repeated year after year; it is an attempt to use a non-toxic, targeted method of control to keep the population levels low.

    If they can prevent enough mating, the moths may simply die out without reproducing. Problem solved.

    The chemicals themselves are either volatilized into the air, or contained within the sticky sphere. Runoff isn’t going to be a problem. Additionally, the tiny (microgram) amounts involved are negligible, particularly when diluted in the air or water.

    The moth will *not* be controlled by predators since it has NO predators in the United States. All of the organisms that naturally attack it are on a different continent.

    Your questions suggest you are thinking of pheromones as a traditional pesticide. They aren’t; it’s a completely different type of control.

  15. Yes please do bug girl.

    Im very curious about this, and i’m sure you can possibly understand how this is confusing, as well as scaring people.

    Especially when Dr James Carey, an entomologist from UC Davis is against the spray. You being in the same field, I wonder why the conflicting stances.

    I also am curious as to why the CDFA once says the moth is no real threat, still wants to spray, and now the moth is a huge threat. Sounds weird to me.

    If i’m correct, the moth is a leafroller right? So i imagine there is damage to the leaf, and that possibly comprises the health of the plant, but as far as outright destroying our agriculture?

  16. There is always dissent within the scientific community. The media likes to play that up–basically, while the majority of entomologists may agree, the media feels like they need to present an alternate view for “balance. Global warming is a good example of the way this plays out in the news.

    What Carey is objecting to is NOT the safety of the pheromones, but whether control is actually *achievable* by this method.

    (Also, note that in his testimony, he puts in a plug for funding a program to study invasive species biology, which he happens to work on.) :)

    Leafrollers can do a surprising amount of damage. Plants depend on leaves to feed themselves, and to breathe (gas exchange). If they loose too many leaves, they can die, or at least have reduced yields of fruit.

    Basically, you can choose: try something benign now (pheromones) to control LBAM; or let it establish itself and then spray real pesticides or crops.

    At this point, several entomologists I know are have switched positions on the spray, simply out of fear of greater regulation in the future of this valuable tool, or an outright ban on pesticides. I’m just about there myself, after seeing how hysterical people are getting.

  17. Well it is true people are getting hysterical. And it can be warranted, chemicals scare people. It doesn’t make it any better that Kawamura, and other are talking to the people as though they are tin-foil hat wearing dolts. That just distances you from the people, and scared them even more. In some cases they are not even responding to people. If there is nothing to hide, and it is safe, there should be no reason to act like this at all. Act guilty, you make people feel there is guilt to be had.

    Being very familiar with psychology, I also know that many of the people who got sick during the Monterey spray, could possibly have made themselves sick just from worrying about the spraying. However, the baby who got sick and almost died was not old enough to be playing these tricks with his/her mind like this. That was plain and simple sick.

    So this is what concerns me, if this pheromone made this child deathly ill, what will it do to you and me after many days of inhalation, or ingestion through water supplies?

    I remember a year back they sprayed for mosquitoes where I live. No worries, it was just over the agriculture. But in this case, the spraying is being done over residential areas, and they are also releasing 10 millions wasps in SF alone???

    It also confuses me that the wasp was seen in Sonoma city, but seems to have skipped Petaluma and Novato, which is along the way. Those areas aren’t being sprayed for what reason?

  18. It confuses me that you are talking about a wasp. Wasp???

  19. Well there is this report that talks about it, they want to release non-native wasps to deal with the LBAM. The map of the spray zones on the CDFA site shows zones for wasp release as well. 10 million in SF, and 40 million elsewhere.

    I also found the line “Pheromones have never been used for widespread eradication anywhere in the world”.
    Oh great, so the Bay Area is the guinea pig on this front? It also says that the predators that eat the LBAM in New Zealand are basically the same predators that are here in California, so why worry then? It seems as though predators are ready and willing here to devour this newly acquired meal. It also stated that widespread spraying was never used in New Zealand, but yet you would have to look very hard to even find an LBAM. The predators do that good of a job there. Wouldn’t they do that good of a job here?

  20. Releasing non-native wasps sounds like a bad idea–we are swapping a targeted, *species specific* control for an unknown (additional!) introduced species.

    There is no way to know what that wasp will do once it’s released; sometimes biocontrol goes well, sometimes…not.

    If the wasp has been vetted through the usual USDA quarantine tests–which normally takes years–sure, why not. If it’s a rush job to make the pheromone hysteria go away, no.

    I haven’t found any actual species names in a brief search–too much anti-pheromone hysteria clogging up google.

    As far as your quoted line, couldn’t find a source for that as well, but I think your use of the word “guinea pig” is pretty interesting.

    As I have said elsewhere, there is a 50 year history of pheromone use in the US and the world. We’re a little past the pig stage.

    It also depends on what is meant by eradication. If they mean global eradication of a species, no, that hasn’t been tried. (And it isn’t what they are doing here!) Locally, pheromones have definitely been successful.

    As I have said above, you don’t need to eradicate the species, just keep the population low enough that they have trouble breeding, and that whatever predation does exist can have an effect.

    You may find a search on “predator search image” or “parasite host semiochemicals” helpful in understanding why it takes a while for new things in the environment to be eaten.

  21. Well, I do know that Sonoma and other areas are so filled with pesticides to begin with that the pheromone use will not add much to the unhealthy air.

    I just have a hard time understanding the measures they are taking, when there really hasn’t been many lbam’s found. 2 in Sonoma Valley, now those two could be from hundreds that are unseen, but still I imagine predators would take care of those.

    Above you mentioned the spray would be inert once it touched ground. What about entering water, and behavior of pesticide drift?

    Also what about the fact that ALL of the people pushing this spray, wont be living in areas where the spray will happen. Its not hard to imagine that anyone would vote or push for something to happen when it wont be happening near them at all.

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