SUPERPESTS: What the hell are they?

I am the first one to jump on the “organic bandwagon”, but today I met my match. It was such an easy question too. Why are superpests bad?

I responded with the generic answer, “Well, they evolve at higher rates in the presence of more toxic pesticides. The pest is then exposed to a stress that eventually will evolve its species. In response, more toxic pesticides are synthesized to combat the resistant pest.”

Chris, my boyfriend and doubter of all my reasoning, posed the question ,”Convince me that superpests are a bad thing.” I responded with, “I just did. Did you not hear my entire rant?”

He stated,”As far as I am concerned, are superpests a bad thing? Everything is evolving to become more fit. Do these superpests actually make pesticides, like Roundup, synthesized to be more toxic? What are the consequences of having a pest that becomes resistant to pesticides? Wouldn’t this same process happen with natural pesticides, like BT?”

Flubbing flub, man. He always lays it on heavy.

A goal of mine while I am in Hawaii is to accept that I do not know everything. As it turns out, I hardly know anything. But when I am faced with opposition, I will research and strengthen my opinions.

This question is a big topic and I don’t want to overwhelm one blog post. I will release a series posts to discuss what a superpest actually is and what it means for farming at large.

Question 1: What happens to pest populations after a pesticide is applied?

There is a clear trend since the introduction of pesticides. The percentage of crops lost due to insects has steadily increased.* Why is this?

How a superpest comes to be

Data suggests that a population of pests that has pesticide applied will become resistant much quicker that it will take for things to become undone. This has to do with the fact that pesticides are used intensely until a clear sign of pest resistance is shown. By that time the frequency of resistance is too high. We essentially groom this pest population to become super resistant to the one pesticide that is being applied.

There are other factors that play into how a pest gains resistance. One example being if a pest and its natural predator are in the same field during pesticide application, it is likely that the predator will die as well. Let’s say that the natural predator, like a frog, has a longer reproduction time, then the predator will not be able to pass on resistant genes quick enough (if it contains any at all). This means that as predators die off, the remaining pest population can increase rapidly with this resistant gene.


Okay, so we can agree that superpests are insects from a population that are resistant to whatever individual pesticide that is applied in their field. Also note that a superpest is not resistant to all pesticides – just the one in application.

The next post will be all about pesticides. Do they become more toxic in response to resistant pests? What does this mean for human health?




*Pesticide Resistance: Strategies and Tactics for Management
By Committee on Strategies for the Management of Pesticide Resistant Pest Populations, Board on Agriculture, National Research Council

About emma_donachie

Are you interested in becoming a farmer, but have no idea where to start? #Same Welcome to a novice’s adventure in organic farming. This blog will be a “from scratch” perspective on how to make a career in organic farming. In March, I will leave my life in Dallas, TX to venture to the Big Island of Hawaii to apprentice on an organic farm. I hope to connect with a community of passionate agriculturists, gardeners, and climatarians to address a better business model for our food system. Please contact me if you would like to connect! Together we can make a healthier planet.

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