Pest control has probably been a human process since the beginning of human history. Pests are whatever animals or plants that hinder human progress or human industries. Some bests are just a bother to humans during everyday activities, like a mosquito annoying a human as they are walking. Other pests are more detrimental to human development, like locusts eating crops. Pests, however, is a relative term. One person’s pest can be another person’s benefit. Say a particular bug damages a certain crop. That bug needs to be controlled in terms of that certain crop. However, that same bug may not damage a different crop. Instead, it could protect that crop by eating the other pests, plants, or microbes, that could damage that different crop.
Human Interactions with Pests
These complexities to pest control had to develop over time. Early humans were hunter-gathers, so the pests humans had to concern themselves first with included fleas, bed bugs, mosquitoes, etc. As soon as humans became a more agricultural society, control tactics had to be developed to protect the early crops from being destroyed. Indeed, the success and growth of agricultural society could have not have happened if early pest management was not implemented.
Early History of Pest Control
When looking at historical records, several peoples had recordings about pests and how to control them. The Sumerians have the oldest records concerning pests that we have so far discovered, dating back to 2500 BC. The Sumerian texts describe using sulfur to control and ward off insects. The Chinese have ancient records, dating back to 500 BC, about using mercury and arsenic on human skin to control lice. Egyptians, also as far back as 500 BC, have records on the use of nets over beds to control mosquitoes from bothering people while they slept. One of the first historical materials that showed people using another pest to control a pest population were Arabs in 1000 AD. In that time, Arab farmers would use a species of ants from mountainous regions to prey on the local ants that consumed date crops. Europeans were late bloomers to develop control strategies, with only large-scale management against pests coming in during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Swedish scientists in the 1700s developed the study and cataloging of pests, helping farmers and other scientists create strategies to fight off pests for medical and agricultural reasons.
The 19th Century
By the beginning of the 19th century, pest management made immense scientific strides, but also witness horrific global events from uncontrolled infestations. The 19th century saw the rise of multiple of scientific disciplines, including the study of pests and pest management. Universities crafted scientific programs of study, like entomology or public health, related to how pests affected human health and agricultural. These findings helped countries, public health campaigns, and the agricultural sector control pests with more accurate scientific investments and new chemicals that could kill pests, called pesticides. However, the increasing globalized world from trade and imperialism caused pest epidemics to increase. Urbanization from the Industrial Revolution increased the amount of personal pests, like lice and bed bugs. Meanwhile, whole countries faced radical pest problems that led to millions of deaths, such as the Irish potato famine.
The 20th Century
By the 20th century, the synthesis of more complex chemicals in pesticides led to the mass industrial creation and marketing of pest products to the commercial sector and to governments for agricultural control. Many of these pesticides either killed pests on contact, damaged the pest’s reproductive systems, or repelled the pest from wanting to consume a crop or going near a human. At the same time, professional pest control businesses began, where the professionals could be hired to implement strategies that remove pests from households or crops.
The history of pest control is linked toward the social and cultural evolution of humankind. New pests come up depending on the new human innovation, such as agriculture. But, pests have been around with mankind since the beginning and will evolve as humans evolve. The study and implementation of controlling pests will evolve with humans and pests.
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