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Family & Home 522 views Feb 17, 2016
Pest Control: A Brief History

Pest control is vital to all walks of life. Whether on account of personal health, for agriculture or for industry, getting rid of pests is an absolute necessity. A ‘pest’ is popularly defined as various species of animals (usually insects) which do considerable harm to or pollute our surroundings. Creatures such as flies, fleas, mice, locusts, cockroaches come under the ambit of ‘pest’. Exterminating them is a pre-requisite for maintaining a healthy life and a healthier economy.

Pest control appeared first in human societies back in the Neolithic Revolution era, when large numbers of human races began to switch to an agricultural way of life from the traditional pastoralism. With settling down and growing crops for subsistence, the need for saving their plants and produce came up. Against seed-eating birds, mice which gnawed into the roots, locusts which destroyed crops---man needed something to shield his livelihood with. Thus he invented techniques such as crop rotation, companion cropping, selective-breeding of pest-resistant varieties etc. And by the 3rd Millennium BCE, he had come up with the chemical fertiliser. As industrialisation spread through the 18th and 19th centuries, chemical pesticides began to be produced on a much wider scale.

In recent times, we have seen a number of innovations, experimentations and re-thinking done in this arena. Concerns about the long-term toxic effect of agricultural chemical pesticides, Governments and farmers have turned to more eco-friendly means of pest control management. Some of these are:


Use of microbial or live animals to control pests such as mosquitoes. The soil bacterium species Bt. israelensis infects the digestive systems of mosquito larvae, and kills them. Fish such as tilapia and carp feed on mosquito eggs and larvae.  Use of pet cats by farmers to devour and control pests such as rats and mice has been there since the beginning of civilisation.


Use of netting over the crop can help to prevent winged pests from descending on it. Putting polythene or collar-like structures around the roots prevent larvae from eating the soil nutrients or roots. Use of carnivorous plants or insect and mice traps, also goes a long way in keeping them from ravaging crops. Immersing of plant parts in hot water to kill off mites and bacteria is also practised in many parts.


Cover up soils or substrates with transparent polythene for weeks on end during summer. This heats up the soil temperature so much that many harmful microbes and insect larvae are killed. This also helps to considerably disinfect the soil.


It’s common knowledge by now that preventing the accumulation of fresh water in soil cracks, the breeding of mosquitoes can be prevented. Also the scattering around of garbage and waste with no proper means of disposing, provides ample scope for cockroach, rat and fly infestation. Thus it is an absolute necessity for all communities to have a proper garbage drop-off, collection and disposal system. Also the municipalities of all cities must make sure that roads are not pot-holed. Similarly, sewers should not be left open or uncovered. It’s not for nothing that they say “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. Use of LED spectrums is also known to stop the breeding of certain insects.


This is mainly used on caterpillars that infest mulberry leaves, groundnuts and other crops. Caterpillars are polyphagous creatures, and every female butterfly lays about 1200 eggs, which hatch within four to five days, immediately after which the young creatures start feeding. Once grown up, caterpillars ravage the crop of a single field within a week, leaving behind only stems. The most effective means to control them are: Deep-ploughing of fields just before monsoon season to expose the pupae and kill them with sunlight; making bonfires on the field bunds at night to destroy larvae en masse or use of poisoning by larva pesticides.
Apart from caterpillars, field burning is also used to kill off rodents or insects. 


Apart from agriculture and agricultural commerce, pest control management systems play a huge part in urbane private lifestyles as well. In order to keep our homes safe from flies, mosquitoes and cockroaches, we frequently order large cans of Hit and Baygon to spray-kill cockroaches and rats, and buy coils and insect-repellent aroma dispensers to keep out mosquitoes. Apart from these home measures, we also employ professional exterminator teams from time to time to hunt down and expel pests. For commercial enterprises, these teams design elaborate pest-ridding schemes, and devise and experiment with ways to implement and maintain them. Emergencies are well-attended to, and most of these units are very effective as well.

Still, self-help is the best help when it comes to staying clean, healthy and safe.