Pest control is something that many know about and even practice. Many may not have bothered to wonder how it all started in the first place. So, how did pest control begin?
Some believe that pest control is as old as agriculture. Pest control is the control and management of any animal life that in one way or another interferes with the operations of humans. So, it makes sense to assume that pest control is at least as old as farming.
Given that farming may have begun sometime around 8000 BC and the first documented instance of pest control was sometime in 3000 BC, this claim appears to lack the evidence to back it up.
Pest Control Before the Common Era
Let’s start our history of pest control right where it began, thousands of years ago.
In around 3000 BC, the ancient Egyptians practiced a form of pest control involving the use of cats as pest control agents in grain stores. The cats protected the grain from rodents. This is the oldest recorded form of pest control, a practice that is very much in use today.
The use of predators as pest control tools has been refined over the years and has now gone far beyond the use of cats to control rodents.
The first documented record of chemical pest control was sometime around 2500 BC. The Sumerians, who kept this record, have long been regarded as the earliest civilized people. Their region, Sumer, located somewhere in today’s Kuwait and Iraq, is also considered to be where civilization began.
Their records show that they used sulfur to control insects, which is the very first such record. No other record of pest control emerged until about 1500 BC, when records appear of the cultural control of plants.
Farmers started trying to control pests by playing around with the planting dates and other farming practices. These kinds of methods remain in use today.
By 1200 BC, another record of botanical insecticides used as pest control emerges. Some farmers in China used these as fungicides to treat seeds.
The next known record of pest control is in 950 BC, when people started trying to control pests by burning weeds. If used alongside farming, this certainly would have had to happen before the actual planting.
Chinese records from as early as 500 BC show attempts to control lice on the human body using arsenic and mercury. Records from around the same period also show Egyptians using nets over sleeping individuals as protection from mosquito bites.
The next stop is 200 BC when the Chinese and Egyptians record the use of oils and herbs to control pests. However, there’s no record as to if this was successful or not.
Pest Control in the Common Era
Let’s continue our history of pest control right through the common era, up to the present.
By AD 300, the use of predators as pest control reappears in records. In this case, reports show that Chinese farmers used predatory mites as a pest control tool in their citrus orchards.
By AD 400, another record of the use of arsenic as a form of pest control appears. In this case, farmers used arsenic in their rice paddies to prevent insect infestations by applying it to the roots of the plants.
Six hundred years later in AD 1000, the Arabs show the use of the predatory approach to pest control. They introduced certain species of insects from one region to date plantations in another region so that they could feed on the local insects that were feeding on the date trees.
Up until this point, the Europeans were out of the picture. They enter the scene sometime in the 1700s when certain scientists in Sweden started studying and keeping records of pests. This made it easier for other scientists and farmers to come up with ways to control these pests.
By 1750, scientists found that pyrethrum and derris were effective as botanical insecticides.
With the growing awareness, the 1800s saw the spread and sharing of individual pest control techniques distributed in papers and books.
By the mid-1800s, the French tried to control grape phylloxera using Tyroglyphus phylloxerae, an insect imported from the Americas. By 1880, the successful introduction of the first spraying machine that was suitable for commercial use occurs. Americans had some success in 1888 with pest control for citrus crops using biological pest control agents brought in from Australia.
By the year 1890, lead arsenic had become very common as a pest control agent. Its popularity continued for about 10 years, until the health hazards associated with it become known. This awareness led to Canada banning the use of harmful chemicals in the spraying of blooming trees as a form of pest control.
By the early 1900s, in 1901, to be precise, weed control through biological means was successfully implemented in Hawaii. In 1921, Ohio began its first aerial application of insecticides.
Needless to say, the advancements made in the 1900s happened in quick succession. In 1930, farmers controlled plant pathogens using synthetic organic compounds. Scientists discovered benzene hexachloride and DDT to be effective insecticides.
A few short years later, in 1948, discussions about the necessity of certain beneficial insects began. Eventually, in 1959, some scientists laid the framework for integrated pest management. They adopted the name “integrated pest control” eight years later in 1967. With this framework laid, the U.S.A. passed the National Environment Policy Act and the National Academy of Sciences formally ratified the term integrated pest management (IPM).
By 1972, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started funding integrated pest management research and the Federal Environmental Pesticides Control Act was passed. By the 1980s, IPM techniques had begun to yield positive results around the world.
Genetically-modified crops were one result of IPM. These first became commercially available in 1996. By 2006, there were growing concerns about the suitability of these genetically-modified crops. These concerns caused researchers to stop certain aspects of IPM techniques.
The history of pest control is pretty long and quite interesting. The advancements made in recent years have come in quick succession and show no signs of slowing down.
As users begin to pay closer attention to what they use for pest control, manufacturers and regulatory bodies feel more pressure to put in more effort into ensuring that only safe products and methods are used.
So, we, today, are writing tomorrow’s history.