Spectracide malathion is an outdoor insecticide formulated to protect flowers, shrubs, fruits, and vegetables from leaf-eating insects. This 50 percent malathion concentrate is primarily effective against aphids, red spider mites, mealybugs, thrips, scales, and whiteflies. Organic or natural pest control can often be effective against these pests as well and is better for the planet.
Malathion in any form should be used only as a last resort and even then very sparingly. It is toxic not just to the insects you want to eliminate but also beneficial insects, like bees; household pets; fish and water species; and even humans.
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What Is Malathion?
Malathion is a powerful pesticide that has been used in the United States since the 1950s. It is generally used to kill insect pests on agricultural crops, golf courses, and home gardens. It is also employed to kill mosquitoes and Mediterranean fruit flies in large outdoor areas.
Malathion is most often sprayed from an airplane over wide land areas, and this has been done most frequently in the states of California and Florida. How does malathion kill insects? Malathion products (there are many available, including liquids, dusts, wettable powders, and emulsions) kill insects by preventing their nervous systems from working normally.
In healthy insects, the nerves pass signals with a special chemical messenger that travels from one nerve to another. When the insect's body releases an enzyme into the space between nerves, the signal stops. When malathion is used, the product binds to the enzyme and prevents the nerve signal from stopping. The continuous signals immobilize the insect and prevent it from breathing.
Is Malathion Dangerous?
While some gardeners might not worry too much about the way insects die from malathion, it is important to know that humans, pets, and other animals can be affected the same way as insects if they are exposed to malathion. Accidental exposure is not infrequent.
Malathion can be taken in by breathing or swallowing it, but it can also be absorbed through the skin. People who apply malathion products are likely to be exposed unless they wear proper protective equipment. It is also possible to be exposed to malathion residue by eating food that was sprayed with this product.
Also, malathion is highly toxic to bees, one of the primary pollinators on the planet. It also can kill other beneficial insects, some fish, and other aquatic life.
How to Use a Malathion Product
Given all of the potential dangers of malathion products, it is always better to take an integrated pest management approach to pest control — that is, try organic solutions first, only using chemical products sparingly as a last resort.
Anyone opting to use Spectracide malathion should be sure to read all of the instructions and warnings before proceeding. Follow label directions closely and carefully, including wearing protective clothing and preventing the product from drifting to areas where bees or other beneficial insects are active.