Contraceptive drugs are nowadays found in aquatic environments around the globe. Particularly, 17 alpha-ethinylestradiol (EE2) may act even at low concentrations, such as those recorded in natural ecosystems. We evaluated the physiological effects of EE2 on cyclopoids and calanoids, common copepods in both marine and freshwater communities. We used three EE2 concentrations and assessed its impact on activity of different physiological endpoints: Acetylcholinesterase (neurotransmission), Glutathione S-transferase (detoxifying system), and Caspase-3 (apoptosis). While EE2 exerts, distinctive effect on detoxifying and apoptotic systems, no effect on AChE was observed at environmental doses. Our results show that EE2 exposure affects differently copepod physiology endpoints, altering moulting process, adult recruitment in calanoids and calanoid to cyclopoid ratio. The ecological consequences of this underlying physiological process may affect since life history to population and community structures, and this represent a new aspects of this xenobiotic in natural systems. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.