How Pests Changed Human History

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Humans have always had a...complicated history with critters and insects that we consider a nuisance, and possibly even a danger. Over time, these creatures have been given a special kind of name: “pests”. The word pest has 2 definitions: 

  1. A destructive insect or other animal that attacks crops, food, livestock, etc. and; 
  2. An annoying person or thing; a nuisance

We can say pretty definitively that these 2 definitions together are a pretty good description overall of what this dreaded category of animals and insects are, and anyone who has had to deal with pests (in other words, all of us) can easily say the same. That complicated history has sometimes meant big effects on human history, from deadly plagues to devastating famine.


Diseases & Plagues 

Pests have unfortunately been the purveyors of disease basically since humans have existed. There is of course the infamous bubonic plague, which was originally (and erroneously) believed to have been spread by rats. In fact, this deadly disease was actually spread by none other than the common fleas, who carried a bacteria called “Yersinia pestis”. Fleas travel on rats, and would then hop onto other creatures -- specifically humans. The bubonic plague affected humans for well over 1000 years, with the first recorded instance occurring in 224 B.C. in China, but most famously occurring most devastatingly in 14th century Europe, when a massive outbreak caused the deaths of over 25 million people. Malaria, a disease carried and spread by mosquitoes, has killed hundreds of millions of people over the course of human history.


Disease was also a massive problem in contexts where there was often too little food, extremely close quarters, and unsanitary conditions: war. In Napoleon’s era, as the French Army marched on Russia, an outbreak of disease caused by body lice (yuck!) led to major illness amongst the soldiers, ultimately contributing to their eventual defeat. During the American Civil War, food was infested with weevils, which meant that Civil War soldiers were eating bugs, whether they liked it or not (we would guess the latter). Bugs were even used in warfare, with ancient Greek and Romans chucking baskets of scorpions at enemies and the Japanese dropping plague-infested fleas on the Chinese during the Second World War. 


Attacks on Food Sources 

Pests have also been the bane of the existence of farmers and countries’ entire food sources since the beginning of agriculture. In fact, this is one of the main reasons for the initial development of pesticides! The ancient Chinese were some of the first to use pest control on crops: they used predatory ants to keep caterpillars and beetles from destroying citrus plants way back in 600 AD!


Jump forward to the 1800s, and you find humans still trying to deal with pest problems in crops, and finding better solutions: with the destructive Colorado potato beetle causing problems for potato crops, an early modern pesticide called Paris Green was used to control that population and protect potato crops. Humans have luckily found ways to mitigate these crop-eating bugs, but it has been a constant battle throughout history to save food production from sinister crop-pests. 


Pest Control Today

So pests have been a nuisance and sometimes even a serious danger to humans through both disease spread and crop destruction. But what about today? Pests are still a problem and affect anyone: termites and carpenter ants can cause major structural damage to homes, wildlife critters can dig up and destroy yards, and a whole host of other pests can cause problems taking up residence in homes and businesses. 


But people have responded, with the creation of an entire industry: namely residential and commercial pest control companies. Here at Thomas Pest Services, we take care of all of those problems and more. It might not be stakes of historical proportions, but with our myriad pest prevention and elimination programs, we can give you and your family peace of mind that your home is healthy and safe!

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