Metarhizium brunneum and anisopliae

Biocontrol Agent Factsheet

Metarhizium anisopliae and Metarhizium brunneum (collectively called Metarhizium spp.) target a wide range of pests across many insect orders and are known to infect over 200 species of insects, most of which are beetles.

Common Names

None

Relative effectiveness

Products containing Metarhizium spp. are most effective when used proactively against pest outbreaks and targeting younger insect larvae usually results in better insect control. Repeat applications may be necessary if insect populations are high. Signs of adequate control can take 6 – 14 days to appear. Efficacy may be variable, but proper application timings and conditions will increase effectiveness (see “Maximizing effectiveness” for more details).

Where to use

Formulations of Metarhizium spp. can be used in controlled environments (e.g., greenhouses, high tunnels shade, houses, and nurseries) and outdoors on labeled crops and plants such as turf, fruits, vegetables, and more. 

Any time you use a pesticide (including formulations of Metarhizium spp.), you must read and follow the label directions and comply with all applicable laws and regulations related to pesticide use. Also be sure that any pesticide used is approved for use in your country and state/province.

About Metarhizium spp.

Metarhizium spp. are the active ingredients in a contact mycoinsecticide (an insecticide which contains fungi) that until recently was registered in the United States for use on a narrow range of insect pests in food and ornamental crops, including turf. Metarhizium spp. are naturally occurring organisms in the soil throughout the world. The effectiveness of products containing these fungi is variable depending on application environment and conditions.  For more information, see the “Learn more” section.

  • Native/Non-native: Native

  • Preferred climate: humid • wet • temperate • Mediterranean • sub-tropical

Life cycle of Metarhizium spp.

Spores are produced on a previously-infected insect. Alternatively, they may be purchased as a bioinsecticide.

The aerial conidia (spores) are spread by wind, rain or insect movement. They attach themselves to a suitable host (e.g., an insect) after contact.

The spores germinate and penetrate the insect. The fungus begins to grow vegetatively.

After producing toxins (in purple) and exploiting the nutrients within the mummified cadaver of the host, the fungus will transition to reproductive growth.

The fungus grows out of the insect, where it produces more spores to be spread into the environment.

How to Use Metarhizium spp.

Biocontrol category: Augmentative—must be released/applied repeatedly

When to use: Because the spores of Metarhizium fungi can be inhibited by too much exposure to ultraviolet light, it is best to apply this biological control agent in the late afternoon or evening, or on cloudy or rainy days.

Rate: Application rates vary depending on the pest and crop. Always follow the instructions on the label when applying this biopesticide. 

Maximizing effectiveness:To make the application of biopesticides containing Metarhizium spp. most effective, applications should be undertaken when the humidity is high, when the UV light is low (late afternoon or cloudy/rainy days), and at warm temperatures 64° – 85°F (18° - 29°C). Manufacturers sometimes offer additional useful tips for applying their products most effectively.

Pest stage:
Larvae: thrips, ticks, root weevils, aphids, whiteflies

Adults: mites, aphids, ticks, whiteflies

Mode of action: This product works as a parasite of insect pests. The fungi attach to the cuticle (shell/skin) of the insect and breaks it down with enzymes. Once it can enter the hemolymph (the insect blood stream), it rapidly takes over the inside of the host and uses it for nutrients. <a href=”#infection”>More information on the infection process</a>.

Conservation: Although Metarhizium spp. are naturally occurring in the soil, fungicides usually should not be applied at the same time or close to the application of products containing Metarhizium spp. [2, 3]. Always read the label before applying pesticides. 

Compatibility: A summary of the compatibility of biopesticides containing Metarhizium spp. with other types of pesticides.

  • Acaricides—sometimes compatible (product dependent)

  • Adjuvants—sometimes compatible (product dependent)

  • Fungicides—usually not compatible; check label for specific application intervals

  • Herbicides—generally compatible

  • Insecticides—generally compatible

  • Other biopesticides—generally compatible

Risk: The label of a pesticide containing Metarhizium spp. will also have information about potential risks to people and the environment. May cause eye irritation and can be harmful if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin. May be toxic to fish – do not discharge rinsate into bodies of water or public waterways or apply this product over standing water or near aquatic habitats. See “Learn More” section for more information on the risks of Metarhizium spp. to non-target organisms.

Commercially available:No—Novozymes Biologicals, Inc., the producer of the commercial products containing Metarhizium anisopliae, stopped the production of all products containing Met52 in 2020. As of April 1, 2022, Lallemand Plant Care, a Canadian company, has registered a product with the U.S. EPA under the new product name “Lalguard® M52 GR”. However, this product was not available for purchase as of early 2023. Additionally, this product has been updated to reflect the new nomenclature of the active ingredient, which is now Metarhizium brunneum. As better tools have become available for distinguishing different species of Metarhizium, we now know that some products that listed M. anisopliae on the label actually contained M. brunneum.

Pests targeted by Metarhizium spp.

  • Aphids
  • Psyllids
  • Root weevils
  • Thrips pupae
  • Ticks
  • Mites
  • Whiteflies

Metarhizium anisopliae and Metarhizium brunneum (collectively called Metarhizium spp.) target a wide range of pests across many insect orders and are known to infect over 200 species of insects, most of which are beetles [1].

Small white insects on the underside of a cucurbit leaf

Whiteflies are one of the pests that can be targeted with this biocontrol agent.

Two, twospotted spider mites sitting on the back of a green leaf. The mites are small with a few hairs, and have two large black patches on both sides of their abdomen.

Twospotted spider mites can also be targeted with Metarhizium spp.

The back of a bean leaf is held between the thumb and forefinger. The leaf is curled at the edges and light green in color. The leaf is covered with thousands of tiny, red spider mites.

Thousands of spider mites and the damage they can cause are shown on the back of a bean leaf.

Learn more about Metarhizium spp.

The fungus that we now know as Metarhizium anisopliae was first described by European scientist Elie Metchnikoff (sometimes spelled Metschnikoff) in 1879 as Entomopthora anisopliae after he observed the disease attacking the cereal cockchafer (Coleoptera, Anisoplia austriaca) and related scarab beetles in Russia [1]. In 1883, E. anisopliae was moved to the genus Metarhizium by Sorokīn, where it has stayed ever since. Metarhizium anisopliae is one of the most widely used fungi for the biological control of insects worldwide and has been a subject of interest for pest control since its discovery in 1879 [2]. Like other commonly used entomopathogenic fungi, M. anisopliae is a generalist pathogen with a wide host range, although it is more restricted than that of Beauveria bassiana (see the article on B. bassiana for more information about that insect pathogen) [2]. Veen 1968 [3] reports that M. anisopliae can infect over 200 species of insects, most of which are beetles (order Coleoptera). Similarly to other entomopathogenic fungi (EPF), M. anisopliae can be found in soils and infecting insects worldwide in habitats ranging from arctic to tropical [2].

M. anisopliae Infection process

Like EPF, M. anisopliae follows the same general infection process [2]. Insect infection by EPF starts with contact between the fungal spore and insect cuticle (Figure 1). Then the spore germinates, forms an appressoria, and penetrates the cuticle. During the penetration step, the fungus produces enzymes (e.g., lipases, chitinases, proteases, etc.) to break down the insect cuticle [4]. Once the appressoria enters the body of the insect, the fungus begins to overcome the immune responses of the host insect and then begins to spread throughout the inside of the insect body. After depleting all the nutrients from the now mummified cadaver of the insect, the fungi grow out of the body and begins to produce new spores. A more detailed explanation of the fungal infection process can be found within Aw & Hue [5].

Effects on Non-target Organisms

Table of effects of M. anisopliae on non-target organisms

Non-target organismCommon name/Organism typeResults/ObservationStudy type (Lab/Field)
Acheta domesticus House cricketSignificant mortalityL
Apis mellifera European honeybee, pollinatorMostly harmless, only adverse effects seen at concentrations higher than field application ratesL/F
Apoanagyrus lopezi Parasitoid wasp"Slight reduction in longevity; low mycosis; no significant effect on mortality 100% mortality in a different study"L/F
Bombus terrestris Buff-tailed bumblebee or large earth bumblebee, pollinatorCan infect bumblebees, but lower risk of infection if incorporated into soil or used on plants that bumblebees don’t preferL/F
Bracon hebetor Parasitoid wasp100% mortalityL
Carabid beetlesCarabidae, usually predatory beetlesNot susceptibleF
Chrysoperla kolthoffi Green lacewing, predatorLonger preoviposition, reduced fecundityL
Clavigralla tomentosicollis Pod-bugs, pestNo sporulation observedL
Diospilus capito Parasitoid waspInfection was higher than target pestL/F
Earthworms (various species) No effectsL
EphydridaeShore fliesNot susceptibleF
FormicidaeAntsNot susceptibleF
Ground-dwelling insect scavengers No effectsF
Hippodamia convergens Convergent ladybeetle, predatory beetleSignificant mortality in lab studyL
Neoseiulus idaeus Predatory miteNo sporulation observedL
Non-target arthropods (spruce stand) No severe negative effects on soil arthropods were observed 
Non-target beetles Effects on beetles were strain dependentF
Non-target invertebrates Soil incorporation had no effectF
Non-target organisms No negative effects on non-target populationsF
Oncopelus fasciatus Large milkweed bugMarginal effectsL
Orius albidipennis Predatory HemipteranNo sporulation observedL
Phanerotoma species Parasitoid waspsNot susceptibleL/F
Phradis morionellus Parasitoid waspLess affected than target pestL/F
Pimelia senegalensis Darkling beetleNo infectionL
Prorops nasuta Parasitoid waspFungal inoculation did not reduce parasitic capacity of the insectL
Spalangia cameroni Parasitoid waspFemales were moderately susceptible, but total fecundity was not affectedL
Tenebrionid beetlesGround-dwelling beetles, predatoryNot susceptibleF
Trachyderma hispida Ground-dwelling beetleNo infectionL
Trichopsidea oestracea Parasitoid flyParasitism did not decrease after applicationL

Beneficial organisms (parasitoids, predators, pollinators, etc.)

Because M. anisopliae is a generalist parasite of insects and has a large host range, the safety of beneficial and non-target organisms is of particular concern when applying any types of pesticides to the environment. Under laboratory conditions, Vestergaard et al. [6] reports that M. anisopliae can infect a wide array of insects, and Veen [3] reports that the fungus can infect over 200 species of insects. However, it should be noted that the physiological host range (e.g., the host range that can be infected in the lab) and the ecological host range (e.g., the hosts that are infected under natural or field conditions), can vary greatly between fungal strains [7]. The table below summarizes some of the laboratory and field studies that investigated the effects of M. anisopliae on non-target organisms (modified from Zimmermann 2007 [2] with author permission). For more information on the specific effects on a particular organism, please see the article cited above.

Soil microorganisms

Because M. anisopliae is already present in most soils worldwide, one might be concerned about the effects of applying a non-native strain to a new environment. Hu & St. Leger [8] released genetically modified M. anisopliae at a University of Maryland research farm and found that there was no evidence of suppression of the local fungal populations. When screened against phoretic mites, Shabel [9] found that the two species evaluated against M. anisopliae were susceptible to fungal infections. This same study found that mites were also able to transfer conidia to new hosts on their own cuticles. Other soil organisms such as collembola have also been screened against M. anisopliae. Dromph [10] found that collembolans can move viable fungal spores and that result in the infection of new host insects. This study also found that the amount of spores that are carried by the collembola is related to their body size, with larger collembola dispersing more viable spores [10]. Finally, this study found that M. anisopliae had low virulence against the three species of collembolans that were tested, and it was suggested that the ingestion of spores by some species of collembola can reduce spore viability.

Aquatic invertebrates

Due to the nature of application of products containing M. anisopliae, there has been some concern about adverse effects of spores in waterways to non-target aquatic invertebrates such as shrimp and aquatic insects. In two laboratory studies completed by Genthner et al. [9, 10], the authors found variable responses of grass shrimp embryos at different spore concentrations, but confirmed dead larvae with visible M. anisopliae fungal growth even at lower spore concentrations. At higher concentrations, they saw significant increases in adverse effects on the larvae. However, these findings could be strain specific (the strain used was not a commercial strain), and likely do not reflect natural conditions of shrimp larval exposure levels. Milner et al. [13] did not observe any adverse effects on mayfly nymphs in Australia, and these authors concluded that the level of spores that enter the water during/after application is very low and is therefore not likely to significantly affect aquatic organisms.

Vertebrates (excluding mammals)

Generally, M. anisopliae is considered safe for use around fish, reptiles, birds, and amphibians. A few studies have reported adverse (but variable) effects of exposure or from feeding M. anisopliae to embryo or juvenile fish (inland silverside fish, Menidia beryllina,  and mosquito fish, Gambusia affinis) [10, 12], but no adverse effects were observed when G. affinis adults species fed on the fungus directly. Milner et al. [13] reported no effects on rainbow fish fry (Melanotaenia duboulayi), and Roberts [15] found that conidia in the water had no effect on Epiplatys bifasciatus mortality. For amphibians there is also little evidence of negative effects on frog development. One study [16] reports no frog mortality or fungal recovery from any leopard frog (Rana pipiens) tissues after frogs were fed spore suspensions of M. anisopliae. Regarding reptiles such as lizards, terrapins, and crocodilians, M. anisopliae has been found in lesions on crocodiles, and it was shown that it was possible to infect other reptiles [17]. Peveling & Demba [18] found that M. anisopliae (var. acridum) posed no risks to fringe-toed lizards when used at field application rates. In this study, the lizards were exposed to high rates of M. anisopliae via three exposure routes: inhalation exposure of dry spores, oral exposure with an oil-miscible flowable concentrate of spores, and feeding exposure with diseased locusts. The exposure and infection risk of birds exposed to M. anisopliae is of particular concern, since birds can be exposed to conidia that are deposited on their food or may even consume infected insects. However, studies on multiple bird species (Japanese quail [19], ring necked pheasants [18, 19]) have found no evidence of mortality, abnormal behavior, or changes in weight or growth rate due to feeding on M. anisopliae.

Mammals (including humans)

When compared to other biopesticides (such as B. bassiana), M. anisopliae has had very few reported instances of allergic reactions after exposure. However, individuals with compromised immune systems or those who work in high exposure environments, such as plants where M. anisopliae products are produced or in the agricultural industry, should take extra measures to protect themselves from exposure to spores by wearing proper personal protective equipment like gloves, protective eyewear, or respirators when necessary.

In small mammals, exposure to M. anisopliae has resulted in variable observations of allergenicity and pathogenicity. A study by El-Kadi et al. [22] showed no allergic reactions from guinea pigs and mice that were exposed to conidia, while Instanes et al. [23] found that M. anisopliae increased allergic responses in mice. In 1998, Muir et al. [24] described a cat that was diagnosed with invasive mycotic rhinitis from M. anisopliae that was treated with an oral antifungal medication.

In humans, there has also been variable allergenic and pathogenic responses from exposure to M. anisopliae. Goettel et al. [25] reported a severe dermal hyperallergic response in humans at one company. Additionally, because of the widespread use of M. anisopliae on sugar cane in Brazil, several agricultural workers presented with asthmatic symptoms due to the fungus [26]. Alternatively, Copping [27] reports that manufacturing staff, researchers, and field staff had no allergic responses from working with various strains of M. anisopliae. There have been several verified cases of pathogenic infection of immunocompetent individuals by M. anisopliae, which has resulted in multiple cases of keratomycosis (fungal infection of the eye) [26, 27] from injuries to the eye, two cases of frontal and ethmoid sinusitis (inflammation of the frontal and ethmoid sinuses) [30], and recurrent skin lesions across the body [31]. In all of these cases, the infections were successfully treated with antifungal medications. More recently, Nourrisson et al. [32] identified eight new cases of human infection from fungi in the genus Metarhizium. Sadly, there is a verified case of a fatal infection from M. anisopliae. In 1998, Burgner et al. [33] reported the death of a 9-year-old immunosuppressed patient with a history of acute leukemia. After testing the susceptibility of the fungus to antifungal treatments, it was found that the specific strain that infected this patient was resistant to itraconazole, fluconazole, ketoconazole and 5-flucytosine.

Products containing M. anisopliae are evaluated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for health and safety concerns. View the EPA evaluation for strain F52 (pdf).

Effectiveness

The effectiveness of M. anisopliae can be affected by abiotic factors, such as temperature, humidity, and UV radiation, and by biotic factors like the availability of host insect or specific fungal strain virulence. Metarhizium spp. function between 15°C and 35°C, with an ideal temperature range of 25°C to 30°C, although some strains are viable at lower or higher temperatures [2, and ref. within]. The storage temperature of M. anisopliae can also impact the efficacy of the fungus, where higher storage temperatures usually decreases spore viability (in addition to light exposure during storage) [34]. Humidity is also a very important factor for fungal survival and efficacy since higher humidity (generally as high to 100% relative humidity as possible) is necessary for fungal germination [35]. The next most important environmental factor for spore viability is exposure to UV radiation (UV-A and UV-B). Braga et al. [36] reported that exposure to only 4 hours of direct sunlight completely inactivated the conidia of two M. anisopliae strains.

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Author

Morgan Swoboda
Department of Entomology, Cornell University

Date: June 10, 2022

Thank you to the Extension and Outreach Assistantship in the Cornell Department of Entomology for funding this project. Thank you to the Soil Arthropod Ecology Lab for reviewing and giving feedback on early versions of the article. 

  • [1] K. H. Veen, “Meded Landbouwhogeschool Wageningen,” vol. 68, no. 5, p. 77, 1968.

  • [2] K. K. Khun, G. J. Ash, M. M. Stevens, R. K. Huwer, and B. A. Wilson, “Compatibility of Metarhizium anisopliae and Beauveria bassiana with insecticides and fungicides used in macadamia production in Australia,” Pest Management Science, vol. 77, no. 2, pp. 709–718, 2021, doi.1002/ps.6065.

  • [3] D. J. Bruck, “Impact of fungicides on Metarhizium anisopliae in the rhizosphere, bulk soil and in vitro,” BioControl, vol. 54, no. 4, pp. 597–606, Aug. 2009, doi: 10.1007/s10526-009-9213-1.: 10

  • Galleria mellonella covered metarhizium fungi—Morgan Swoboda

  • Twospotted spider mites— © Frank Peairs, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org (CC BY 3.0 US DEED)

  • Spider mites on bean leaf—Public domain

  • Infection process of entomopathogenic fungi. Figure credit: Morgan Swoboda (created in BioRender.com)

Portrait of Amara Dunn
Amara Dunn-Silver

Senior Extension Associate

NYS Integrated Pest Management

Amara Dunn-Silver
Morgan Swoboda

PhD Student

Department of Entomology

Morgan Swoboda
  • mhs338 [at] cornell.edu