The animal kingdom is full of weird and wonderful creatures. Some live peacefully in their own habitat, barely coming in contact with humans. These are the ones I prefer for obvious reasons, and even better if I am completely unaware of their existence! On the other hand – and unfortunately for us – others thrive off human interaction, annoyingly living near populated areas. It is those insects and animals in the latter mentioned group which are sometimes regarded as being pests, but what makes an organism a pest?
What is a pest?
Not all animals, and in particular insects, are pests.
The characteristics of a pest are widely discussed amongst pest experts. Although some definitions differ, they all contain similarities. To become a pest, an organism must possess three characteristics:
1. An Existing Suitability to the Habitat in which it has Become a Pest
This characteristic refers to a pest’s living habits. For an animal to survive, it needs a sustainable food source, shelter, and a suitable breeding ground. These characteristics need to clash with those of human kind for an animal to become a pest.
For example bed bugs live off human blood, so a home, and in particular a bedroom, provides them with a stable habitat in which to thrive. When my cousins come to visit without me really having a say in the matter and help themselves to my food, would it be nasty of me to classify them as pests…?
2. A Sufficiently high population and/or breeding rate to expand into the habitat.
For an animal to become a pest it must have a high population and/or breeding rate in order to disturb humans. For example, a termite colony consists of a huge population, as well as a rapid breeding rate. One termite alone could not cause a huge amount of damage, but thousands of termites have the ability to destroy a home.
3. An Opportunity to cause some form of injury to man
The underlining factor which contributes to an animal being referred to as a pest is the potential to affect humanity in a negative way. It could be plant pests damaging crops, or mosquitoes biting humans and spreading disease.
Pests come in all different shapes and sizes. It is suggested that pests can be divided up into 3 different categories based on the effect they have towards mankind.:
- Medical: This refers to pests that harm humans and other animals, such as bed bugs and fleas to name a few.
- Urban: Urban pests are organisms which infest our homes and other frequently used areas occupied by humans. Pigeons, cockroaches and mice are all seen has urban pests.
- Agricultural: Agricultural refers to pests which pose a threat to crops.
Although there are 3 main pest categories, there is quite a lot of overlap between them. Some pests can fall into more than one category. For example, rats can be seen as both urban and medical. They exist in urban areas populated by humans, but also cause a major risk to our health via the potential diseases they can carry.
Not Every Species is a Pest
Although we do consider certain insects and animals as pests, it is important to note that not all organisms within that category are pests. For instance, even though we regard termites as pests as a whole, not every species of termite is a pest.
Some species of insects and animals contribute to the ecosystem in a manner which excludes them from being a pest. Some even contribute to the controlling of pests. For example parasitoid wasps live off caterpillars which inhabit an agricultural setting, living off crops and other vegetation.
Just like the three categories of pests, an insect and/or animal that is seen as a pest can also play an important role in our ecosystem. Bees for instance, are known to be a pest due to their stinging nature, but yet they are crucial to our ecosystem. When it comes to pest control services for bees, the process involves relocating them to a safe place rather than the usual methods used in pest control.
Knowing the difference between a pest and a harmless organism is a vital part to pest control. Some pests contribute towards our ecosystem and having the knowledge to not only identify the pest correctly, but also knowing how to manage the problem in a suitable manner is a crucial part in pest control.