The application of pest control ranges from do-it-yourself arrangements to
scientific and very precise deployment of chemicals and predatory insects by
highly skilled practitioners. Despite the fact that pest control is a world-wide
industry it is still dominated by family or 1-person businesses. Those that need
to control pests range from householders to
large scale agri-conglomerates who need to maximise their yield. In between
these two are restaurants, bars, food production facilities, farmers – in fact,
anybody that routinely deals with food. Pest control can make us more
comfortable – but can also save lives.
The word pest is subjective as one man’s pest may be another man’s
helper. For instance, pest A may be a threat to crop A, and pest B a threat to
crop B. However, if pest B is a natural predator to pest A, then the farmer who
wishes to protect crop A may cultivate and release pest B amongst his crops.
There is a theory that without man’s intervention in the food chain through
agriculture, hunting and long distance travel there would be no pests. The
theory continues that man’s intervention (for instance, in cultivating and
releasing pest B, or in carrying creatures long distances) has upset the balance
of the food chain, producing instability in insect and other animal numbers and
distorting their evolution. This instability has led to over-population of a
species with the result that they have become pests. Having said this, if we assume that the very first fly swat was the first
instance of pest control – and we know that large animals swat flies – it could be
argued that pest control dates back way before humans came on the scene.
The first recorded instance of pest control takes us back to 2500BC when the Sumerians
used sulphur to control insects. Then around 1200BC the Chinese, in their great
age of discovery towards the end of the Shang Dynasty, were using chemicals to
control insects. The Chinese continued to develop ever more sophisticated
chemicals and methods of controlling insects for crops and for people’s comfort.
No doubt the spread of pest control know-how was helped by the advanced state of
Chinese writing ability. Although progress in pest control methods undoubtedly
continued, the next significant scrap of evidence does not come until around
750BC when Homer described the Greek use of wood ash spread on land as a form of
pest control. Mosquito control
Around 500BC the Chinese were using mercury and arsenic compounds as a means
to control body lice, a common problem throughout history. In 440BC the Ancient
Egyptian’s used fishing nets to cover their beds or their homes at night as a
protection from mosquitoes
there is evidence of the use of use of predatory insects to control pests,
although this method was almost certainly developed before this date. The Romans
developed pest control methods and these ideas were spread throughout the
200BC, Roman censor Cato encouraged the use of oils as a means of pest control
and in 70AD Pliny the Elder wrote that galbanum resin (from the fennel plant)
should be added to sulphur in order to discourage mosquitoes. In 13BC the first recorded rat-proof grain store was built by the Romans.
The first known instance where predatory insects were transported from one area to another comes from Arabia around 1000AD where date growers moved cultures of ants from neighboring mountains to their oasis plantations in order
to prey on phytophagous ants which attacked date palm.