The Importance of Pest Control in Nature

Pest Control Allen TX focuses on prevention, suppression and eradication. Preventing pests includes eliminating or blocking their access to food, water and shelter.

Other controls include physical or mechanical methods that kill the pest directly or make it difficult to survive. Examples include traps for rodents and sprays for weeds. Biological pest control uses living organisms such as predators, parasites and pathogens to help eliminate harmful insects or plants.

Whether they crawl, fly, slither or squat, insects are all around us. They are an essential part of nature’s food web and provide many important ecological services. Insects recycle soil nutrients, pollinate flowers and crops, disperse plant pathogens and control pest populations. But by the end of this century, 40% of the world’s insect species could go extinct. Despite this alarming prediction, gardeners, homeowners, policy-makers and Native American nations are taking action to protect insect species, from planting native gardens to avoiding pesticides to conserving habitats.

Insects are the largest group of the arthropod phylum, consisting of more than a million described species. They have a three-part body with a head, thorax and abdomen, three pairs of jointed legs and compound eyes. Insects are the most diverse group of animals on earth and a vital part of our natural environment.

Many gardeners rely on the predatory and parasitic behavior of insects to control pest species, such as fire ants, mosquitoes, flies, fleas, ticks, mites and beetles. However, if these insect predators are depleted by overuse of pesticides or a lack of food sources in the surrounding ecosystem, their population densities will increase and they may become damaging pests themselves.

Most pests have a life cycle that includes an egg, larva, pupa and adult stages. Because each stage of the pest’s development requires different environmental conditions, treatments that target only one or more of these stages are unlikely to be effective. Insecticides typically require repeated applications over several weeks or months to control a pest, and even then they don’t completely eradicate it.

The life cycles of some pests have a “boom and bust” pattern that is affected by weather, food availability and disease. For example, the abundance of striped cucumber beetles, plum curculio, flea beetles and canker worms rises and falls over several years.

If a gardener can recognize and respond to the early warning signs of a destructive insect outbreak—such as twigs that show signs of chewing or holes in leaves or stems—preventive chemical applications of horticultural oil, diamide fungicides or acetic acid can prevent damage from these pests.

Rodents

Rodents are mammals that live in a wide variety of terrestrial habitats. They are typically small animals with robust bodies, short limbs and long tails. Many have sharp incisors for chewing and digging, which they use to make burrows or tunnels. Rodents can be active year round or enter periods of dormancy or deep hibernation. They breed frequently, with litter sizes ranging from two or three to 22 offspring.

Rodents can be serious pests, spoiling stored food and destroying crops, and some species are known to transmit diseases to people and pets. Rats and mice are the rodents most commonly associated with human dwellings. They and other rodents can also gnaw through electrical wires, leading to fires in homes and businesses that cost owners millions of dollars each year.

There are more than 3,400 species of rodent in the world, adapted to almost every terrestrial habitat. They can be arboreal, fossorial (burrowing), or saltatorial/richochetal (leaping on their hind legs).

Although all rodents share some common characteristics, they are divided into many different orders based on size and lifestyle, with some notable exceptions. The rodents we see most often are members of the Order Rodentia, which includes rats and mice, voles, squirrels, hamsters and guinea pigs. Rabbits, hares and pikas are in the Order Lagomorpha, which is distinct from Rodentia.

The best way to prevent rodent infestations is to store food and other supplies in chew-proof containers or sealed plastic bags. If possible, food should be kept inside the home, rather than in garages or sheds where rodents are more likely to gain entry. In addition, doors should clear floors by at least 1/4-inch and be fitted with metal kick plates to prevent gnawing. Vents and floor drains should have screens or grates, and spaces around them should be filled with cement.

Other indications of rodent activity include gnawed holes in walls and woodwork, droppings, rub marks on surfaces and strange noises, including scratching at night. A Western Exterminator can identify which type of rodent is causing problems and recommend the most appropriate control methods, which may include trapping or baiting.

Birds

Birds are essential components of natural ecosystems, helping to control populations of insects that could otherwise damage or kill trees, shrubs, grasses and other plants. In agricultural landscapes, birds also provide valuable pest control services by consuming crop-damaging insects. Research shows that birds prey on insect pests that cause serious economic loss to farms and reducing the need for costly pesticides.

A variety of factors influence the ability of birds to be beneficial or pests, including food availability and habitat. For this reason, it’s important that farmers understand which birds are likely to benefit or harm crops and be able to identify those that have become pests over time.

Although bird-pest management is a major component of sustainable agriculture, little is known about how bird consumption of insect pests and their natural enemies affects farmland ecosystems. To better assess this impact, researchers analyzed the proportion of pest species in songbird fecal samples collected on 11 farms in western Massachusetts in summer 2019 and 2020. The results show that, overall, songbirds consumed more of the pests than their natural enemies. However, the percentage of each pest species varied significantly by site and bird species.

It is possible that this difference reflects changes in the abundance of pest species or the amount of time between sample collection and DNA extraction, which can cause genetic material to degrade. The findings are consistent with those of other studies that have found that fewer pests in the diet of songbirds can lead to reduced pest damage on farmland (Garfinkel et al., 2020).

To reduce the occurrence of pest birds in and around crop fields, farmers can modify their land use by eliminating water sources that attract pest species, planting cover crops to discourage them and removing other factors that encourage bird habitat on the property. They can also try auditory or visual scare devices to deter bird pests. These include visual devices like scarecrows, reflective tape and lighted owls, and sound-producing devices such as wind chimes and hawk kits. Helikites—tethered helium-filled balloons that hover high in the sky and simulate birds of prey—are becoming increasingly popular in berry and cherry-growing areas of the Northwest.

Other Animals

Some animals that are not plants are important to pest control. These include birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and mammals that feed on or attack some pests. Some of these animals also parasitize or prey on other organisms that are pests, reducing their numbers. Also, some plants attract and serve as host sites for predatory and parasitic insects that control pest populations. Juvenile hormones, which are natural insect chemicals that keep the earlier stages of an insect from developing into normal adults, also limit pest population growth.

Climate, the temperature and length of daylight, affects pest activity. Many pests are killed or suppressed when their host plants experience severe drought, frost, or flooding. Climate can also affect pests indirectly by influencing the growth of their host plants. For example, a plant disease may be controlled by favorable weather conditions that allow the crop to grow quickly enough to offset the effects of the disease.

Natural barriers, such as mountains and bodies of water, restrict the movement of some pests. In addition, the availability of shelter influences the size of some pest populations. A pest species can thrive only as long as it can find food, water, and shelter to protect it from predators and the elements.

Biological control is the use of living organisms, such as predators, parasitoids, and pathogens, to suppress pest populations and make them less damaging than they would be under natural conditions. Increasing the number of natural enemies of a pest, either by conserving existing ones or by mass rearing and releasing them, is a key component in biological control. Eradication is a rare goal in outdoor pest situations, but it can be achieved under some circumstances, such as the elimination of Mediterranean fruit fly or gypsy moth from enclosed areas.