SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.42 número4Manejo do solo e força iônica na retenção de selenato em solos oxídicosPotencial zeta e mobilidade eletroforética para a recuperação de um solo salino com alterações orgânicas índice de autoresíndice de assuntospesquisa de artigos
Home Pagelista alfabética de periódicos  

Serviços Personalizados




Links relacionados


Ciência e Agrotecnologia

versão impressa ISSN 1413-7054versão On-line ISSN 1981-1829

Ciênc. agrotec. vol.42 no.4 Lavras jul./ago. 2018 

Agricultural Sciences

Toxicity of Cymbopogon flexuosus essential oil and citral for Spodoptera frugiperda

Toxicidade do óleo essencial de Cymbopogon flexuosus e do citral para Spodoptera frugiperda

Ellison Rosario de Oliveira1  * 

Dejane Santos Alves2 

Geraldo Andrade Carvalho3 

Bárbara Maria Ribeiro Guimarães de Oliveira1 

Smail Aazza1 

Suzan Kelly Vilela Bertolucci1 

1Universidade Federal de Lavras/UFLA, Departamento de Agricultura/DAG, Lavras, MG, Brasil

2Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná /UTFPR, Santa Helena, PR, Brasil

3Universidade Federal de Lavras/UFLA, Departamento de Entomologia/DEN, Lavras, MG, Brasil


Fall armyworm (FAW) (Spodoptera frugiperda) is a polyphagous insect responsible for damage to several crops. Synthetic chemical insecticides and genetically modified plants are the most commonly used methods for FAW control. However, the selection of resistant populations has been reported in several studies, justifying the search for new molecules to be used in the control of S. frugiperda. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the toxicity of lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) essential oil (LEO) and its major component (citral) in relation to FAW. Additionally, the anticholinesterase activity of LEO and citral was evaluated using acetylcholinesterase (AChE) from Electrophorus electricus. The LEO was toxic to FAW when added to an artificial diet (LC50 = 1.35 mg mL-1) at the highest concentrations tested, and the median lethal time (LT50) was 18.85 h. Major components of LEO were identified by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, and citral, the most abundant component, was used in FAW bioassays. The insecticidal activity of citral was statistically similar to that of LEO, demonstrating that citral was responsible for the insecticidal activity of LEO. Inhibition of AChE was measured, and the mean inhibitory concentration (IC50) values for LEO and citral were 650- and 405-fold higher, respectively, than that verified for the positive control (methomyl insecticide), suggesting selectivity for non-target organisms. Based on these results, citral and C. flexuosus have the potential to be applied in the development of new products for the control of S. frugiperda.

Index terms: Lemongrass; (2Z)-3,7-dimethylocta-2,6-dienal; monoterpenes; botanical insecticide; fall armyworm.


A lagarta do cartucho (LCM) (Spodoptera frugiperda) é um inseto polífago que causa danos em várias culturas. Inseticidas químicos sintéticos e plantas geneticamente modificadas são os métodos mais comumente empregados para o seu controle. Entretanto, existem muitos relatos da seleção de populações resistentes, o que justifica a busca por novas moléculas para o controle de S. frugiperda. O objetivo desse trabalho foi avaliar a toxicidade do óleo essencial de capim limão (Cymbopogon flexuosus) (OECL) e seu componente majoritário, citral, para LCM. Adicionalmente, a atividade anticolinestarase do OECL e do citral foram avaliadas usando a acetilcolinestarase (AChE) de Electrophorus electricus. OECL foi tóxico para LCM, quando incorporado em dieta artificial (CL50 = 1,35 mg mL-1), nas mais altas concentrações testadas, o tempo letal mediano (TL50) foi de 18,85 h. Os componentes majoritários do OECL foram identificados por cromatografia gasosa acoplada a espectometria de massas. Citral, o composto mais abundante, foi empregado em bioensaios com LCM. A atividade inseticida do citral foi estatisticamente similar àquela do OECL, demonstrando que o citral é responsável pela atividade inseticida do OECL. A inibição da AChE foi mensurada, sendo os valores de concentração inibitória media (CI50) encontrados para o OECL e citral, 650 e 405 vezes maiores, respectivamente, do que o detectado para o controle positivo, o inseticida metomil, sugerindo seletividade para organismo não-alvo. Os resultados encontrados tornam o citral e C. flexuosus promissores para serem empregados no desenvolvimento de novos produtos para o controle de S. frugiperda.

Termos para indexação: Lemongrass; (2Z)-3,7-dimethylocta-2,6-dienal; monoterpenos; inseticida botânico; lagarta do cartucho.


The fall armyworm (FAW) Spodoptera frugiperda (J. E. Smith) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) is considered one of the primary pests occurring in the most important agricultural commodities in the Americas. The FAW is a polyphagous insect that reproduces throughout the phenological stages of several crops, both in productive and surrounding areas, because of intensive cultivation (Casmuz et al., 2010; Murúa et al., 2015).

The high population density and economic damages caused by S. frugiperda lead to great dependence on the use of synthetic chemical insecticides and genetically modified plants for control. However, the indiscriminate and intensive use of these technologies, associated with the high reproductive rate and dispersion of this insect, has led to the selection of resistant populations (Farias et al., 2016; Omoto et al., 2016; Santos-Amaya et al., 2017; Yu; McCord, 2007), justifying the constant search for molecules that may be used to control this insect.

In this context, secondary plant metabolites are identified as a promising tool in the control of insect pests. Substances from plants are often less toxic to non-target organisms, such as natural enemies, pollinators and humans (Isman, 2017; Pavela; Benelli, 2016). Among secondary plant metabolites, essential oils have received increasing attention for their insecticidal activity and sublethal effects (Krinski; Foerster, 2016; Regnault-Roger, 2013; Silva et al., 2017b; Walia et al., 2017). Furthermore, essential oils are compounds that may reduce the potential for resistance to pests because of their complex chemical composition that may direct their performance at different sites and at different stages of development of the target insect (Akhtar et al., 2012).

Species from the genus Cymbopogon of the Poaceae family are widely known for producing lemongrass essential oil (LEO) and for their insecticidal properties. Among the species from this genus, Cymbopogon flexuosus (Steud.) Wats. (Poaceae) is one of the most widely grown plants producing essential oil in tropical and subtropical regions of India, Indonesia, Madagascar, and countries in Africa and South America (Ganjewala; Luthra, 2010). Toxicity of this plant is observed against stored grain pests (Caballero-Gallardo; Olivero-Verbel; Stashenko, 2012), insect-borne diseases (Tawatsin et al., 2001; Tennyson et al., 2013; Vera et al., 2014), and oilseed pests (Hernández-Lambraño, Caballero-Gallardo; Olivero-Verbel, 2014).

Note that LEO is considered as a minimum risk insecticide according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, 2015); however, to the best of our knowledge, LEO insecticidal activity against S. frugiperda has not been reported to date. Thus, the aim of the present study was to chemically characterize the C. flexuosus essential oil and evaluate the toxicity of LEO and that of the major constituent to S. frugiperda. Additionally, the potential inhibitory effects of the essential oil and citral were evaluated in vitro on the acetylcholinesterase (AChE) enzyme from electric eel (Electrophorus electricus), which can provide information on the selectivity of these metabolites to non-target organisms.



Spodoptera frugiperda were reared from caterpillars and pupae obtained from maize in an experimental field of the Federal University of Lavras, Minas Gerais, Brazil. To perform the bioassays, S. frugiperda caterpillars were used at 48 h of age from the second reproduction of laboratory specimens fed artificial diet (Parra, 2001). Adults were fed 10% honey aqueous solution. All insects were kept in an acclimatized room at 25 ± 2 ºC, 70 ± 10% RH and with a 12 h photoperiod.

Essential oil

The tillers of C. flexuosus were collected from the Horto of Medicinal Plants at Federal Lavras University. Plants of C. flexuosus were cultivated in soil with organic fertilizer (cow dung) at a dose of 3.0 kg m-2 irrigated periodically with plant spacing of 45 cm (21°14’43” S, 44°59’59” W). The plants were identified on the basis of morphological features and deposited in the herbarium of the Department of Biology at Federal Lavras University (UFLA). The fresh plant leaves were collected at 20 cm from the soil at seven months of age. The plant material (1000 g) was steam-distilled for 90 min in a Marconi MA480 essential oil distiller (Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brazil). The LEO was separated by decantation for 20 min and stored in a freezer at -10 °C until chemical analyses and biological tests.

GC-MS analysis of C. flexuosus essential oil

The quantitative analysis of C. flexuosus essential oil was performed using an Agilent® 7890A chromatograph operated with the HP GC ChemStation data processing system ver. A.01.14 and equipped with a CombiPAL Autosampler System (CTC Analytic AG, Switzerland) and flame ionization detector (GC-FID). Samples were prepared by diluting the essential oil with ethyl acetate (10 mL L-1). Volume injection was 1.0 μL in split mode at a 50:1 injection ratio. An HP-5ms fused silica capillary column (30 m length x 250 μm internal diameter x 0.25 μm film thickness) (California, USA) was used. Helium gas was used as the carrier gas with flow of 1.0 mL min-1. The injector and detector temperatures were maintained at 240 °C. The initial oven temperature was 60 °C maintained for 1 min, followed by a temperature ramp of 3 °C min-1 up to 240 °C, followed by a ramp of 10 °C min-1 up to 250 °C, with the isothermal condition maintained for 1 min. The concentrations of the constituents were expressed by the average relative percentage of area of the chromatographic peaks ± the standard deviation of three analyzed samples.

Qualitative analyzes were performed on an Agilent® 7890A chromatograph coupled to an Agilent® MSD 5975C mass selective detector (Agilent Technologies, California, USA) operated by electronic impact ionization at 70 eV in scan mode at a speed of 1.0 scan s-1, with a mass acquisition interval of 40-400 m/z. The operating conditions were the same as those used in GC-DIC analyses.

Mass spectra from the database of NIST/EPA/NHI (National Institute of Standards and Technology - NIST, 2008) were compared to identify the chemical constituents of samples. Additionally, the retention indices from the Adams (2007) literature were compared with retention indices calculated based on the equation of Dool and Kratz (1963) relative to coinjection of a standard solution of n-alkanes (C8-C20; Sigma-Aldrich®, St. Louis, USA) and coinjection with citral (neral and geranial mixture with 95% purity; Sigma-Aldrich®).

Time-concentration-mortality responses for FAW fed diet containing LEO

LEO at the range of concentrations from 0.5 to 4.0 mg mL-1 diet was leached in aqueous 0.01 g mL-1 Tween® 80 (Polysorbate 80; Sigma-Aldrich®) (20 mL) and incorporated into artificial diet (200 mL) at 40 °C. To ensure that the aqueous solution of Tween® 80 was homogenized with the essential oil, 10 drops of food coloring agent (Arcolor®) were added using a Pasteur pipette. Dietary pieces (1 cm diameter x 1.5 cm height, weight = 9 ± 0.35 g) were transferred to glass tubes (8 cm x 2.5 cm) in which a caterpillar at 48 h of age was introduced, previously fed artificial diet without the addition of essential oil. A completely randomized design was used composed of LEO leached at different concentrations and the two controls: diet with water and food coloring agent added and diet with Tween® 80 aqueous solution and dye added, totaling 14 treatments. The experimental plot consisted of one caterpillar maintained individually, and 60 replicates were used per treatment. Insect survival was evaluated every 24 h for 11 days. Survival data after 72 h were used to calculate the median lethal concentration (LC50).

Sublethal effects of LEO for FAW

The LEO [0.675 mg mL-1 diet (LC20) and 1.35 mg mL-1 diet (LC50)] was incorporated into the artificial diet as described in the subitem above. The control treatments were diet with water and food coloring agent added and diet with aqueous solution Tween® 80 and dye added. Each treatment consisted of 120 replicates with one caterpillar per replicate; the experimental plot consisted of one individual caterpillar. Insect development was evaluated daily until the pupal stage, with records of the larval survival every 24 h for 264 h, the larval phase duration and the pupal weight.

Toxicity to citral for FAW

The reference citral (neral and geranial mixture with 95% purity; Sigma-Aldrich®) was added to the artificial diet of FAW at concentrations of (0.521, 1.042 and 1.58 mg mL-1 diet), as previously described.

The bioassay was performed in a completely randomized design consisting of eight treatments: the estimated values for the LC20 (0.675 mg mL-1), LC50 (1.35 mg mL-1) and LC90 (2.053 mg mL -1) of the LEO; the estimated values for the LC20 (1.58 mg mL-1), LC50 (1.042 mg mL-1) and LC90 (0.521 mg mL-1) of citral, and two controls, diet with water and food coloring agent added and diet with Tween® 80 aqueous solution and dye added.

Citral concentrations were calculated using the values​ obtained in the quantitative chromatographic analysis of the essential oil, using the formula LC = [(c x p)/100], where LC = expected lethal concentration of citral, c = lethal concentration of the essential oil and p = percentage of citral in the constitution of the LEO.

Each treatment consisted of 60 replicates, each represented by a 48-h-old caterpillar maintained in a glass tube (8 cm x 2.5 cm) containing an artificial diet of the same size (1 cm diameter x 1.5 cm height).

Inhibition of enzymatic activity of the AChE

The inhibitory activity of AChE was determined according to the methodology described by Aazza, Lyoussi and Miguel (2011) with modifications. In this respect, 4.25 μL of Tris-HCl buffer (0.1 M, pH = 8) and 25 μL of the test constituent (LEO or citral) were dissolved in ethanol at different concentrations from 0.01 to 2.24 mg mL-1. Subsequently, 25 μL of AChE enzyme (0.22 U/mL) (Type-VI-S, EC, Sigma-Aldrich®) was added and homogenized. After incubation at 37 °C for 15 min, 75 μL of 15 mM acetylcholine iodide substrate (Sigma-Aldrich®) and 475 μL of 3 mM 5,5’-dithiobis-(2-nitrobenzoic acid) (Sigma -Aldrich®) were added, and the resulting solution was incubated at room temperature for 30 min. The same procedure was performed for the positive control, a commercial product based on methomyl (Lannate®, DuPont), and for the negative control (ethanol). The solutions were transferred to microplates, and the absorbance was measured at 405 nm in a TECAN Infinite® M200 PRO microplate reader.

Statistical analyses

The survival data of insects over time were subjected to survival analysis by applying the Weibull model through the Survival package (Therneau, 2015) of the R software® (R Core Team, 2018). After selecting the most appropriate mathematical model through residue analysis, the contrast analysis was performed to verify the similarity among the used treatments to form congeners, with the median lethal time (LT50) calculated for each formed group. To verify the data fitting to the model, the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test was applied.

To determine the concentration-mortality response, the data were subjected to Logit analysis using the drc package (Ritz; Streibig, 2016) of the R software® (R Core Team, 2018). Data on the duration of the larval period and weight of pupae were subjected to the Shapiro-Wilk test, using the Mvnormteste package (Jarek, 2012) to verify the normality. Subsequently, data were subjected to ANOVA and to the Scott-Knott test of the Laercio package (Silva, 2010).


GC-MS analysis of C. flexuosus essential oil

The LEO was composed of 21 constituents, corresponding to 90.57% of the chemical composition. The major constituents of LEO were neral/Z-citral (32.59%) and geranial/E-citral (44.65%). These isomeric monoterpenes totaled 77.25% of this essential oil, whereas the other constituents summed to 13.32% of total oil content (Table 1).

Table 1: Chemical composition of the essential oil of Cymbopogon flexuosus leaves. 

Constituent RT RI* Area %
1 5-Hepten-2-one, 6-methyl- 7.820 985 1.58
2 Myrcene 7.971 990 0.45
3 Trans-linalool oxyde 11.711 1088 0.14
4 Linalool 12.171 1100 2.79
5 Exo-isocitral 14.127 1144 0.42
6 Photocitral A 14.345 1149 0.38
7 Citronellal 14.493 1152 0.29
8 Z-isocitral 15.003 1164 0.98
9 E-isocitral 15.815 1182 1.28
10 Estragole 16.513 1198 0.35
11 n-decanal 16.843 1205 0.42
12 Neral 18.523 1242 32.59
13 Geraniol 19.061 1254 0.93
14 Geranial 19.897 1273 44.65
15 Nerolic acid 22.168 1323 0.54
16 Ni m/z = 168 22.850 1339 2.31
17 Geranic acid 23.939 1363 0.18
18 Ni m/z = 169 24.479 1375 3.41
19 Geranyl acetate 24.882 1384 1.92
20 Ar-curcumene 29.165 1483 0.46
21 Sandacopimara-8(14), 15-diene 47.356 1966 0.22

RT = retention time; *RI = retention index calculated in relation to the n-alkane series (C8-C20) on HP-5 MS column in the elution order; Ni = non-identified constituent.

The major constituents generally found in C. flexuosus essential oil are the geranial and neral aldehydes, which together form citral and can vary in content according to numerous factors. The recorded content of citral (77.25%) in the present study was relatively low in relation to the content described in other studies (Adukwu et al., 2012; Ahmad; Viljoen, 2015; Silva et al., 2015). By contrast, the citral content reported in this study was higher than that in the studies of Anaruma et al. (2010) and Vera et al. (2014).

The differences in the quantitative chemical composition of C. flexuosus observed in the present study can be explained by the variation in genotype, geographic origin, environmental factors, plant development stage, harvest season, fertilization type and the method of obtaining the essential oil (Gobbo-Neto; Lopes, 2007; Bakkali et al., 2008). Note that plants from the same species but from different origins can express different patterns of metabolites.

Time-concentration-mortality responses for FAW fed diets containing LEO

The C. flexuosus essential oil presented insecticidal activity for S. frugiperda caterpillars. The survival analysis of S. frugiperda caterpillars fed a diet containing LEO produced four congener groups (χ2 = 321; df = 13; p ≤ 0.01) for which the data were fitted to the Weibull distribution (D = 0.054409, p-value = 0.4092). The caterpillars fed diets containing the essential oil at the highest concentrations (2.25, 2.5 and 4.0 mg mL-1 diet) formed the first group with the LT50 of only 18.85 h, and 100% of the insects were dead after 240 h. The second group consisted of treatments at intermediate concentrations (1.5, 1.75 and 2.0 mg mL-1 diet), with the LT50 of 106.5 h and accumulated survival at the end of the trial evaluation period of only 28%. The lowest concentrations (0.5 to 1.4 mg mL-1) formed the third group, which presented an LT50 greater than 264 h and a cumulative survival rate of 68%. The two controls, diet with water and food coloring added and diet with aqueous 0.01 g mL-1 Tween® 80 and dye added, formed the fourth group, with an LT50 greater than 264 h and a cumulative survival of 90% at the end of the test (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Survival curves for Spodoptera frugiperda caterpillars fed artificial diet containing different concentrations of Cymbopogon flexuosus essential oil. Where: S (t) = exp(-(time/δ)α); δ = skewness parameter; α = scale parameter. With: Group 1 = diet with C. flexuosus essential oil added (2.25, 2.5 and 4.0 mg mL-1 diet); Group 2 = diet with C. flexuosus essential oil added (1.5, 1.75 and 2.0 mg mL-1 diet); Group 3 = diet with C. flexuosus essential oil added (0.5, 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 mg mL-1 diet); Group 4 = diet with water and dye added and diet with aqueous 0.01 g mL-1 Tween® 80 added. 

After 72 h of feeding by the caterpillars on the artificial diet containing the LEO, the estimated concentration in causing the death of 50% of the population (LC50) was 1.33 ± 0.05 mg mL-1 diet. The LC90 was estimated at 2.81 ± 0.26 mg mL-1 diet, and the estimated LC20 was 0.84 ± 0.06 mg mL-1 diet (χ2 = 395.68; df = 351; p = 0.1088).

The LEO was toxic to FAW, corroborating results in other studies in which the insecticidal activity of essential oil for S. frugiperda from other plant species of the genus Cymbopogon was verified, such as Cymbopogon winterianus (Silva el al., 2016; Silva et al., 2017a) and Cymbopogon citratus (Knaak et al., 2013). Specifically, for C. flexuosus, this report is the first of insecticidal activity against S. frugiperda, although this species is known for insecticidal activity on other lepidopteran species (Hernández-Lambraño; Caballero-Gallardo; Olivero-Verbel, 2014).

In the present study, fast insecticidal activity was also verified for the highest concentrations of LEO (LT50 of only 18.85 h). This result was reinforced by analyzing the risk function of the survival curve in which the (alpha) scale parameter was less than 1 (0.67) and therefore decreasing, which was evidence of significant mortality of caterpillars in the first hours of evaluation, suggesting the interaction of the constituents with sites of action in the nervous system of the caterpillars.

In this context, the toxicity of LEO is consistent with other studies that evaluated the insecticidal potential of Cymbopogon species on Lepidoptera. Labinas and Crocomo (2002) verified insecticidal activity of the essential oil of C. winterianus at the concentration of 5.0 mg mL-1 for S. frugiperda neonate caterpillars, conferring 85% mortality. Kolani et al. (2016) observed a strong antifeedant effect on third instar caterpillars of the essential oil of Cymbopogon schcoenanthus (LC50 52.39 mg mL-1) and inhibition of adult emergence of Plutella xylostella based on a feeding method. Murcia-Meseguer et al. (2018) applied 1 µL of C. winterianus at the concentration of 500 mg mL-1 to third instar caterpillars of Spodoptera exigua and verified a mortality of 42%, in addition to developmental interruptions and reduction in pupal size.

The values of LC50 found in the present study demonstrate the potential of C. flexuosus for the control of S. frugiperda, because the LC50 value (1.33 ± 0.05 mg mL-1 diet) is comparable to that of other natural products that are considered promising for use in the control of FAW, such as secondary metabolites from stem bark of Duguetia lanceolata A.St.-Hil. (Annonaceae) (LC50 946.5 μg mL-1 diet) (Alves et al., 2016).

Sublethal effects of LEO for FAW

The treatment consisting of artificial diet with added LEO (1.35 mg mL-1 diet) caused 65.83% mortality after 264 h of evaluation with a median lethal time (LT50) of 102.6 h. For the concentration of 0.675 mg mL-1 essential oil, the accumulated mortality was 29.17%, and the LT50 was greater than 264 h. The control diets with water and food coloring agent added and with aqueous 0.01 g mL-1 Tween® 80 and dye added did not differ significantly from one another, with accumulated survival of 94% (χ2 = 141.66; df = 3; p ≤ 0.05). The data were fitted to the Weibull distribution (D = 0.031315, p-value = 0.9729) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Survival curve for Spodoptera frugiperda caterpillars fed artificial diet containing different concentrations of the Cymbopogon flexuosus essential oil. Where: S (t) = exp(-(time/δ)α); δ = skewness parameter; α = scale parameter. With: Group 1 = diet with C. flexuosus essential oil added at the concentration equivalent to the LC50 (1.35 mg mL-1 diet); Group 2 = diet with C. flexuosus essential oil added at the concentration equivalent to the LC20 (0.675 mg mL-1 diet); Group 3 = control diets with water and food coloring agent added and with aqueous 0.01 g mL-1 Tween® 80 and dye added. 

In addition to causing mortality, LEO increased the duration of the larval stage of S. frugiperda. For caterpillars that were fed an artificial diet containing essential oil at concentrations equivalent to the LC50 and LC20, an average increase in larval stage duration of up to 23% was observed in relation to that of the controls. However, for pupae weights, no significant difference was detected among treatments (Table 2).

Table 2: Duration of the larval stage (average ± standard error) of Spodoptera frugiperda when 48-h-old larvae were fed an artificial diet containing Cymbopogon flexuosus essential oil. 

Treatment Larval period (days) Pupa weight (mg)ns
Water + Dye 16.90±0.16 a 243.83±2.25
Water + Dye + 1% Tween® 80 17.32±0.14 a 243.12±2.75
C. flexuosus - 0.675 mg mL-1 diet 18.36±0.37 b 242.17±3.32
C. flexuosus - 1.35 mg mL-1 diet 20.85±0.72 c 241.81±4.25
р ≤ 0.05 0.0000 0.968
F 24.472 0.0855
df 3 3

Averages followed by the same letter in the column do not differ by the Scott-Knott test (р ≤ 0.05%). nsValues were not significantly different.

This effect was also observed in other studies in which the action of botanical insecticides was evaluated on lepidopteran pests (Ansante et al., 2015; Cruz et al., 2016; Hummelbrunner; Isman, 2001; Kaleeswaran et al., 2018). With regard to integrated pest management, the increase in the larval period observed with sublethal doses of insecticidal plants may be an important strategy when associated with biological control, for example.

The increase in FAW larval phase duration did not lead to a reduction in pupal weight. This finding, combined with the rapid mortality, suggested a neurotoxic effect of the essential oil. The requirement for caterpillars to feed for a longer period may be associated with the higher energy expenditure required by an insect to metabolize the toxic compounds in the essential oil.

Toxicity to citral for FAW

Citral, the major constituent of the C. flexuosus essential oil, when evaluated at concentrations equivalent to those estimated in the quantitative chromatographic analysis of the essential oil, showed insecticidal activity for S. frugiperda caterpillars that was statistically equal to that of the C. flexuosus essential oil. Based on survival analysis, four congener groups were formed. The first group was formed by treatments corresponding to the LC90 of the LEO (2.053 mg ml-1) and the LC90 of citral (1.58 mg mL-1) with an LT50 of 44.5 h and a cumulative mortality of 93%. Similarly, the treatments with the LC50 of the LEO (1.35 mg mL-1) and the LC50 of citral (1.042 mg mL-1) formed the second group, with an LT50 of 120.5 h and accumulated mortality of 71%. The third group consisted of treatments with concentrations equivalent to the LC20 values of the LEO (0.675 mg mL-1) and citral (0.521 mg mL-1), with an LT50 greater than 264 h and accumulated survival of 69.9%. The two controls, diet with water and food coloring agent added and diet with aqueous solution Tween® 80 added, formed the fourth group with a cumulative survival of 98.33% (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Survival of Spodoptera frugiperda caterpillars after exposure to artificial diet containing Cymbopogon flexuosus essential oil and its pure major constituent (citral) at different concentrations. Where: S (t) = exp(-(time/δ)α); δ = skewness parameter; α = scale parameter. Group 1: LC90 (2.053 mg mL-1) of C. flexuosus essential oil and LC90 (1.58 mg mL-1) of citral. Group 2: LC50 (1.35 mg mL-1) of C. flexuosus essential oil and LC50 (1.042 mg mL-1) of citral. Group 3: LC20 (0.675 mg mL-1) of C. flexuosus essential oil and LC20 (0.521 mg mL-1) of citral. Group 4: Controls, diet with water and food coloring agent added and diet with aqueous 0.01 g mL-1 Tween® 80 and dye added. 

Essential oils generally show greater insecticidal activity than that of any of the components in their chemical constitution. However, this activity may be linked to synergistic or antagonistic interactions among the structural components of an essential oil in which more than one active constituent is responsible for bioactivity (Akhtar et al., 2012; Heshmati Afshar et al., 2017; Jiang et al., 2009).

However, in the present study, the insecticidal activity of the LEO was statistically equal to that of its major constituent (citral). Based on this result, the toxicity of this essential oil was due to the action of citral. This result of the current study is similar to that found by Tak, Jovel and Isman (2016) when evaluating the insecticidal activity of Cymbopogon citratus Stapf. (Poaceae) essential oil and its major constituents citral and limonene for Trichoplusia ni Hübner (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). These authors verified that the citral toxicity was similar to that of the essential oil and that the insecticidal activity was attributed to this constituent. Similar results were also observed when the toxicity of Lippia alba (Mill) N. E. Brown essential oil was evaluated for S. frugiperda caterpillars, and the insecticidal property of this plant was also attributed to citral (Niculau et al., 2013).

Although some research has been conducted, the mode of action of citral in insects is not well elucidated. Citral can reversibly inhibit purified AChE from the brain of Galleria mellonella L. (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) (Keane; Ryan, 1999) and also promotes a similar neurophysiological effect on the neuromodulator, octopamine, in cockroaches (Price; Berry, 2006). However, to date, no assays have been performed that evaluate the inhibition of AChE purified from the brain of S. frugiperda by citral. Although the amino acid sequences in the AChEs of insects are well conserved, evolutionarily intraspecific differences in the amino acid residues are verified (Pang et al., 2009). Thus, because of the rapid mortality observed in the present study, only that citral acts on the nervous system of S. frugiperda can be suggested.

Inhibition of enzymatic activity of the AChE

When AChE was used from electric eel (E. electricus), which is commonly used as a standard for seeking substances that inhibit AChE in the nervous system of humans, particularly for the treatment of neurogenerative diseases (Bozkurt et al., 2017; Mesquita et al., 2018) and pesticide monitoring (Assis et al., 2012; Ahmed et al., 2012), citral and LEO caused 50% inhibition of enzyme activity at concentrations 405 and 654-fold higher, respectively, than those required to cause the same inhibition value as the positive control, methomyl commercial insecticide (Table 3). These values suggest low toxicity for non-target organisms.

Table 3: Percent inhibition of the acetylcholinesterase enzyme for C. flexuosus essential oil and citral. 

Concentration % Inhibition ± SD % Inhibition ± SD % Inhibition ± SD
(mg.mL-1) C. flexuosus Citral Control (methomyl)
0.01 3.88 ± 2.14 3.70 ± 0.51 73.64 ± 0.23
0.02 5.81 ± 0.91 4.11 ± 0.99 79.86 ± 0.12
0.04 6.41 ± 1.11 7.05 ± 0.28 90.09 ± 0.25
0.07 10.48 ± 1.57 8.55 ± 0.24 98.35 ± 0.18
0.14 18.71 ± 0.05 16.08 ± 0.86 99.89 ± 0.37
0.28 25.59 ± 0.67 31.06 ± 0.52 99.99 ± 0.09
0.56 40.22 ± 0.15 51.57 ± 0.77 99.99 ± 0.07
1.12 61.30 ± 0.21 64.40 ± 0.36 99.99 ± 0.05
2.24 74.36 ± 0.37 75.57 ± 0.56 99.99 ± 0.05

SD: Standard deviation.

This finding did not exclude the possibility that the mode of action of citral in S. frugiperda occurred through the inhibition of AChE, as verified in a study in which purified AChE was used from the brain of another lepidopteran species (Keane; Ryan, 1999). This AChE was employed because mammalian AChE differs from that found in insects by an amino acid residue, known as the insect-specific cysteine residue (Jankowska et al., 2018). Few studies compare the inhibition of AChE in vertebrates with that in insects; however, differences are detected (Picollo et al., 2008; Jankowska et al., 2018).

Field and semi-field studies must be conducted to assess whether the same pattern of results obtained in laboratory studies is maintained in the field, both for S. frugiperda and for other insects and food crops. This report is the first showing the use of LEO to control S. frugiperda.


The C. flexuosus essential oil caused high mortality for S. frugiperda caterpillars. To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to investigate the insecticidal activity of C. flexuosus essential oil for S. frugiperda. When the major constituent (citral) was evaluated for toxicity to S. frugiperda, citral was affirmed as the monoterpenoid responsible for the insecticidal activity. The high IC50 values required to cause inhibition of AChE indicated selectivity for non-target organisms. Thus, because of the rapid mortality observed in the present study, citral possibly acted on the nervous system of S. frugiperda. Based on the results of this study, citral and C. flexuosus have promise for use in the development of new products for the control of S. frugiperda.


We thank the Minas Gerais Foundation for Research Support (FAPEMIG) for the financial support for the scholarship to the first author and the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) for the productivity research grant for the fourth and fifth authors


AAZZA, S.; LYOUSSI, B.; MIGUEL, M. G. Antioxidant and antiacetyl cholinesterase activities of some commercial essential oils and their major compounds. Molecules, 16(9):7672-7690, 2011. [ Links ]

ADAMS, R. P. Identification of essential oil components by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. 4th ed. Illinois: Allured, 2007. 804p. [ Links ]

ADUKWU, E. C.; ALLEN, S. C. H.; PHILLIPS, C. A. The anti-biofilm activity of lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) and grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) essential oils against five strains of Staphylococcus aureus. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 113(5):1217-1227, 2012. [ Links ]

AHMAD, A.; VILJOEN, A. The in vitro antimicrobial activity of Cymbopogon essential oil (lemon grass) and its interaction with silver ions. Phytomedicine, 22(6):657-665, 2015. [ Links ]

AHMED, M. et al. Toxicological effect of herbicides (diuron and bentazon) on snake venom and electric eel acetylcholinesterase. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 89(2):229-233, 2012. [ Links ]

AKHTAR, Y. L. et al. Effect of chemical complexity of essential oils on feeding deterrence in larvae of the cabbage looper. Physiological Entomology, 37(1):81-91, 2012. [ Links ]

ALVES, D. S. et al. Selection of annonaceae species for the control of Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) and metabolic profiling of Duguetia lanceolata using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Journal of Economic Entomology, 109(2):649-659, 2016. [ Links ]

ANARUMA, N. D. et al. Control of Colletotrichum gloeosporioides (Penz.) Sacc. in yellow passion fruit using Cymbopogon citratus essential oil. Brazilian Journal of Microbiology, 41(1):66-73, 2010. [ Links ]

ANSANTE, T. F. et al. Secondary metabolites from Neotropical Annonaceae: Screening, bioguided fractionation, and toxicity to Spodoptera frugiperda (J.E. Smith) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Industrial Crops and Products, 74:969-976, 2015. [ Links ]

ASSIS, C. R. D. et al. Comparative effect of pesticides on brain acetylcholinesterase in tropical fish. Science of the Total Environment, 441:141-150, 2012. [ Links ]

BAKKALI, F. et al. Biological effects of essential oils: A review. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 46(2):446-475, 2008. [ Links ]

BOZKURT, B. et al. Alkaloid profiling, anticholinesterase activity and molecular modeling study of Galanthus elwesii. South African Journal of Botany, 113:119-127, 2017. [ Links ]

CABALLERO-GALLARDO, K.; OLIVERO-VERBEL, J.; STASHENKO, E. E. Repellency and toxicity of essential oils from Cymbopogon martinii, Cymbopogon flexuosus and Lippia origanoides cultivated in Colombia against Tribolium castaneum. Journal of Stored Products Research, 50:62-65, 2012. [ Links ]

CASMUZ, A. et al. Revisión de los hospederos del gusano cogollero del maíz, Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Revista de la Sociedad Entomológica Argentina, 69(3/4):209-231, 2010. [ Links ]

CRUZ, G. S. et al. Sublethal effects of essential oils from Eucalyptus staigeriana (Myrtales: Myrtaceae), Ocimum gratissimum (Lamiales: Laminaceae) and Foeniculum vulgare (Apiales: Apiaceae) on the biology of Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Journal of Economic Entomology , 109(2):660-666, 2016. [ Links ]

DOOL, H. van den; KRATZ, P. A generalization of the retention index system including linear temperature programmed gas-liquid partition chromatography. Journal of Chromatography A, 11(C):463-471, 1963. [ Links ]

FARIAS, J. R. et al. Frequency of Cry1F resistance alleles in Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) in Brazil. Pest Management Science, 72(12):2295-2302, 2016. [ Links ]

GANJEWALA, D.; LUTHRA, R. Essential oil biosynthesis and regulation in the genus Cymbopogon. Natural Products Communications, 5(1):163-172, 2010. [ Links ]

GOBBO-NETO, L.; LOPES, N. P. Medicinal plants: Factors of influence on the content of secondary metabolites. Química Nova, 30(2):374-381, 2007. [ Links ]

HERNÁNDEZ-LAMBRAÑO, R.; CABALLERO-GALLARDO, K.; OLIVERO-VERBEL, J. Toxicity and antifeedant activity of essential oils from three aromatic plants grown in Colombia against Euprosterna elaeasa and Acharia fusca (Lepidoptera: Limacodidae). Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, 4(9):695-700, 2014. [ Links ]

HESHMATI AFSHAR, F. et al. Comparative toxicity of Helosciadium nodiflorum essential oils and combinations of their main constituents against the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni (Lepidoptera). Industrial Crops and Products , 98:46-52, 2017. [ Links ]

HUMMELBRUNNER, L. A.; ISMAN, M. B. Acute, sublethal, antifeedant, and synergistic effects of monoterpenoid essential oil compounds on the tobacco cutworm, Spodoptera litura (Lep., Noctuidae). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 49(2):715-720, 2001. [ Links ]

ISMAN, M. B. Bridging the gap: Moving botanical insecticides from the laboratory to the farm. Industrial Crops and Products , 110:10-14, 2017. [ Links ]

JANKOWSKA, M. et al. Molecular targets for components of essential oils in the insect nervous system - A review. Molecules , 23(1):34, 2018. [ Links ]

JAREK, S. Mvnormtest: Normality test for multivariate variables. R package version 0.1-9. 2012. Available in: <Available in: >. Access in: April, 15, 2018. [ Links ]

JIANG, Z. et al. Comparative toxicity of essential oils of Litsea pungens and Litsea cubeba and blends of their major constituents against the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry , 57(11):4833-4837, 2009. [ Links ]

KALEESWARAN, G. et al. Bamboo-leaf prickly ash extract: A potential bio-pesticide against oriental leaf worm, Spodoptera litura (Fabricius) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Journal of Environmental Management, 208:46-55, 2018. [ Links ]

KEANE, S.; RYAN, M. F. Purification, characterization, and inhibition by monoterpenes of acetylcholinesterase from the waxmoth, Galleria mellonella (L.). Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 29(12):1097-1104, 1999. [ Links ]

KNAAK, N. et al. Toxicity of essential oils to the larvae of Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Journal of Biopesticides, 6(1):49-53, 2013. [ Links ]

KOLANI, L. et al. Investigation of insecticidal activity of blend of essential oil of Cymbopogon schoenanthus and neem oil on Plutella xylostella (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae). Journal of Essential Oil-Bearing Plants, 19(6):1478-1486, 2016. [ Links ]

KRINSKI, D.; FOERSTER, L. A. Toxicity of essential oils from leaves of piperaceae species in rice stalk stink bug eggs, Tibraca limbativentris (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae). Ciência e Agrotecnologia, 40(6):676-687, 2016. [ Links ]

LABINAS, A. M.; CROCOMO, W. B. Effect of Java grass (Cymbopogon winterianus Jowitt) essential oil on fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda (J. E. Smith, 1797) (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae). Acta Scientiarum, 4(5):1401-1405, 2002. [ Links ]

MESQUITA, B. M. et al. Synthesis, larvicidal and acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activities of carvacrol/thymol and derivatives. Quimica Nova, 41(4):412-416, 2018. [ Links ]

MURCIA-MESEGUER, A. et al. Insecticidal toxicity of thirteen commercial plant essential oils against Spodoptera exigua (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Phytoparasitica, 46(2):233-245, 2018. [ Links ]

MURÚA, M. G. et al. Demonstration using field collections that Argentina fall armyworm populations exhibit strain-specific host plant preferences. Journal of Economic Entomology , 108(5):2305-2315, 2015. [ Links ]

NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY. PC version 2.0 of the NIST/EPA/NIH Mass Spectral Library. Gaithersburg, 2008. Software. [ Links ]

NICULAU, E. S. et al. Atividade inseticida de óleos essenciais de Pelargonium graveolens l’ Herit e Lippia alba (Mill) N. E. Brown sobre Spodoptera frugiperda (J. E. Smith). Química Nova , 36(9):1391-1394, 2013. [ Links ]

OMOTO, C. et al. Field-evolved resistance to Cry1Ab maize by Spodoptera frugiperda in Brazil. Pest Management Science , 72(9):1727-1736, 2016. [ Links ]

PANG, Y. P. et al. Selective and irreversible inhibitors of aphid acetylcholinesterases: Steps toward human-safe insecticides. PLoS ONE, 4(2):e4349, 2009. [ Links ]

PARRA, J. R. P. Técnicas de criação de insetos para programas de controle biológico. Piracicaba: ESALQ/FEALQ, 2001. 137p. [ Links ]

PAVELA, R.; BENELLI, G. Essential oils as ecofriendly biopesticides? Challenges and constraints. Trends in Plant Science, 21(12):1000-1007, 2016. [ Links ]

PICOLLO, M. I. et al. Anticholinesterase and pediculicidal activities of monoterpenoids. Fitoterapia, 79(4):271-278, 2008. [ Links ]

PRICE, D. N.; BERRY, M. S. Comparison of effects of octopamine and insecticidal essential oils on activity in the nerve cord, foregut, and dorsal unpaired median neurons of cockroaches. Journal of Insect Physiology, 52(3):309-319, 2006. [ Links ]

R CORE TEAM. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing. Vienna, Austria, 2018. Available in: <Available in: >. Access in: April, 15, 2018. [ Links ]

REGNAULT-ROGER, C. Essential oils in insect control. In: RAMAWAT, K. G.; MÉRILLON, J.-M. Natural Products: Phytochemistry, Botany and Metabolism of Alkaloids, Phenolics and Terpenes. Berlin: Springer, 2013, p.4087-4107. [ Links ]

RITZ, C.; STREIBIG, J. C. Package ‘drc’: Analysis of dose-response curve data. 2016. Available in: < Available in: >. Access in: April, 15, 2018. [ Links ]

SANTOS-AMAYA, O. F. et al. Magnitude and allele frequency of Cry1F resistance in field populations of the fall armyworm (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) in Brazil. Journal of Economic Entomology , 110(4):1770-1778, 2017. [ Links ]

SILVA, C. T. D. S. et al. Biochemical parameters of Spodoptera frugiperda (J. E. Smith) treated with citronella oil (Cymbopogon winterianus Jowitt ex Bor) and its influence on reproduction. Acta Histochemica, 118(4):347-352, 2016. [ Links ]

SILVA, C. T. S. et al. Effects of citronella oil (Cymbopogon winterianus Jowitt ex Bor) on Spodoptera frugiperda (J. E. Smith) midgut and fat body. Biotechnic and Histochemistry, 93(1):36-48, 2018. [ Links ]

SILVA, J. L. da et al. Essential oil of Cymbppogon flexuosus, Vernonia polyanthes and potassium phosphite in control of bean anthracnose. Journal of Medicinal Plant Research, 9(8):243-253, 2015. [ Links ]

SILVA, L. J. Laercio: Duncan test, Tukey test and Scott-Knott test. R package version 1.0-1. 2010. Available in: <Available in: >. Access in: April, 15, 2018. [ Links ]

SILVA, S. M. et al. Ocimum basilicum essential oil combined with deltamethrin to improve the management of Spodoptera frugiperda. Ciência e Agrotecnologia , 41(6):665-675, 2017b. [ Links ]

TAK, J. H.; JOVEL, E.; ISMAN, M. B. Contact, fumigant, and cytotoxic activities of thyme and lemongrass essential oils against larvae and an ovarian cell line of the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni. Journal of Pest Science, 89(1):183-193, 2016. [ Links ]

TAWATSIN, A. et al. Repellency of volatile oils from plants against three mosquito vectors. Journal of Vector Ecology, 26(1):76-82, 2001. [ Links ]

TENNYSON, S. et al. Larvicidal efficacy of plant oils against the dengue vector Aedes aegypti (L.) (Diptera: Culicidae). Middle East Journal of Scientific Research, 13(1):64-68, 2013. [ Links ]

THERNEAU, T. M. A Package for Survival Analysis in S. Version 2.38. 2015. Available in: <Available in: >. Access in: April, 15, 2018. [ Links ]

UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (EPA). Minimum risk pesticides exempted from FIFRA registration. 2015. Available in: <Available in: >. Access in: April, 15, 2018. [ Links ]

VERA, S. S. et al. Essential oils with insecticidal activity against larvae of Aedes aegypti (Diptera: Culicidae). Parasitology Research, 113(7):2647-2654, 2014. [ Links ]

WALIA, S. et al. Phytochemical biopesticides: Some recent developments. Phytochemistry Reviews, 16(5): 989-1007 , 2017. [ Links ]

YU S. J.; MCCORD, E. Lack of cross-resistance to indoxacarb in insecticide-resistant Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) and Plutella xylostella (Lepidoptera: Yponomeutidae). Pest Management Science , 63:63-67, 2007 [ Links ]

Received: June 20, 2018; Accepted: August 06, 2018

*Corresponding author:

Creative Commons License This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License