Identifying Pests Correctly is Important to Develop a Pest Control Strategy

Identifying the pest correctly is important to develop a pest control strategy. It helps determine whether the pest can be tolerated, needs to be controlled, or if any specific management tactics are appropriate.

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Prevention is a key concept in pest control, and involves modifying the environment to make it less attractive and accessible to pests. It can include food storage and waste management, landscaping to minimize pest hiding places, keeping trash receptacles closed and trimmed, and using pheromones or other signals to deter pests from entering buildings. Prevention also includes identifying potential entry points and sealing or blocking them, such as repairing cracks in foundations, screens on windows, and tightening roof flashings.

The goal of preventive pest control is to limit the number of pests and their damage without the use of chemical controls. This is done by scouting and monitoring for pests, determining how often they occur and their numbers. Then a threshold is determined for taking action, such as when a few wasps flying around the yard doesn’t warrant an extermination effort but when they are swarming near the house or causing damage to a plant or food supply is evident.

Pests that eat or contaminate crops can ruin harvests, leaving farmers with nothing to sell or eat. They can also cause diseases that threaten human health, such as cockroaches spreading bacteria that can make people sick. In addition, pests can interrupt urban and rural transportation, contaminate food in stores or restaurants, and interfere with business activities such as invading rodents in warehouses.

When preventive methods fail, physical or mechanical controls are used to stop pests from reaching desired plants or structures. These include traps, nets, fences, dripping, radiation, and alteration of the soil or water environment to discourage pests, such as by adding mulches to keep out insects or flooding areas to destroy mosquito larvae.

Some pests are more difficult to manage because of their long lifespans and complex life cycles, and it is important to understand their behavior to predict when and how to intervene. Understanding the life cycle of a pest, for example, can help you predict how often it will occur and how quickly it will spread. You can then take steps to manage it more effectively. For example, you can reduce its impact by intervening at the right time, such as when it is in an egg, nymph or adult stage, or by introducing natural enemies (such as predators, parasites, or pathogens) to the environment.


A pest population may be controlled to reduce damage or other undesirable effects. To determine the appropriate level of control, you must consider the amount of harm and costs associated with the pest. If the harm caused by the pest is greater than is reasonable to accept, action should be taken. Pest control options include prevention, suppression and eradication.

Sanitation practices can help prevent and suppress some pests. Removing food, water and shelter can limit a pest’s growth. Pests can also be prevented from spreading from one area to another by using natural barriers such as rivers, lakes or mountains, and by keeping soil, air and equipment clean. Sanitation measures in agricultural settings include destroying crop residues and improving soil quality to reduce pest harborage. Proper trash disposal can also prevent pests from gaining access to human food and waste.

Many pests are destroyed naturally by their predators and parasitoids, but these populations need adequate habitat to thrive. Research shows that natural enemies are most effective when they can attack the pest at different stages of its life cycle, and when they do not compete with each other (interspecific competition). The landscape in which crop fields are located also affects the strength of natural enemy control. Landscapes with a high density of non-crop habitats provide more opportunities for natural enemies to interact with pests, and result in stronger suppression of the pest.

Predators and parasitoids are especially important to biological control of aphids, but they need ample food to survive. Adding flower strips or hedgerows in crop fields to provide food for these natural enemies can increase their ability to control aphid populations.

The development of new methods of controlling pests is a primary function of the Plant Protection Products Branch, which is part of APHIS’s Division of Plant Health Science and Technology. The Branch develops, evaluates and implements biological control agents to manage plant pests and noxious weeds. These activities are conducted in a variety of ways, including developing and evaluating potential new agents at APHIS Plant Health Science Centers, developing techniques to enable their successful establishment, and conducting post release monitoring and evaluation.


Eradication is removing a pest from the environment to the point where it cannot recolonize or cause damage. A variety of factors can lead to the eradication of an organism, including natural or man-made means (such as a disease vaccine) or simply the natural evolution of resistance to an insecticide. However, the eradication of a pest is not always feasible and should only be attempted when the benefits outweigh the costs (i.e., when the cost of a potential future outbreak of a damaging species would exceed the additional benefit from eradication).

Sometimes organisms rise to pest status due to escaping normal control by their natural enemies. This is often caused by direct or indirect human activities, such as introducing non-native predators to an area and disrupting their ability to suppress pest populations (e.g., importing the vedalia bettle to control citrus green mites in California). Biological pest control involves augmenting or replacing a pest’s natural enemies by introducing new ones, either from the pest’s area of origin or from another location. Historically, this was done by releasing parasitoids (such as braconid wasps) to kill caterpillars in fruit orchards, for example.

Other methods involve introducing chemicals that prevent the reproduction of an organism, or genetically altering plants so that they are less likely to be damaged by a particular pest. For example, autocide is a method of reducing the number of pest insects by introducing sterile males that will not fertilise females. This method is not widely used or available, as the cost of introducing sterile males is high and there may be a significant risk that they will not breed successfully in the wild.

A pest is any organism that reduces the availability, quality or value of a resource to humans (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2005). These resources can be food, money, housing, land, or health, and can include animals, plants, weeds, or even ideas. Examples of pests include rodents, insects, fungi, viruses, or bacteria that damage crops, spread diseases, or cause discomfort or fear. The eradication of certain pests has dramatically improved the lives of many people. The eradication of smallpox, for example, has dramatically decreased the chance of contracting this potentially deadly virus. The eradication of other harmful pests, such as the screwworm and medfly, has been hampered by a lack of economic justification for such an undertaking.


Chances are your facility does a lot of monitoring: allergens in food, metal contaminants in processing equipment, pathogens like E. coli or Listeria. Pest control is one more thing to monitor for and that means correctly identifying pests to understand their numbers and the damage they are doing. It also helps determine whether you need to take action to control them and what methods will be most effective.

In Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs, pest monitoring is the foundation. A good program consists of regular scouting, identifying pests and their numbers, examining the damage they are doing, and considering environmental factors. It also involves using this information to establish action thresholds (the levels above which pests must be controlled) for each type of pest.

Scouting can include a wide range of techniques, from hand-searching for insects in stored product to analyzing soil samples for rootworms. It can be done by individuals or with the help of an experienced IPM scout who knows what to look for. IPM programs also use a variety of tools, including insect light traps (ILTs) which attract and identify many common stored-product pests, such as warehouse beetles, cigarette beetles, and Indian meal moths, and can serve as an early warning system.

These tools are augmented by visual methods, which provide important additional information and can reveal problems that may be missed with other types of monitoring. A flashlight, a telescoping mirror to get behind and under equipment, and a magnifying glass can help inspectors find pests, their harborage areas, and evidence of damage. These can include excrement (frass), skins, egg masses, or other signs of pest presence.

Sampling is usually done in conjunction with visual monitoring, and can be a useful way to supplement the information gathered by scouting. It can be used to check the accuracy of ILTs, to identify a specific pest in a historical infestation area, or to assess the effectiveness of a treatment. Sampling methods can also be used to verify that a suspected pest is indeed the target of an IPM program, or to confirm a diagnosis made based on other data, such as damage indicators or action thresholds.