Household Pests by PLG Bateman

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The human race creates its own pests and the first field planted with one crop provided a bonanza for the insects for which it was a food plant. Volumes have been written on agricultural and garden pests as a consequence. The same principle applies to buildings. From the time the first man went to live in a cave, creatures have moved in with him. Some crawled, some flew, some went in with animal skins and tree branches. One or two specialised forms developed which literally came to live on us. Fleas, lice and bed bugs may truly be said to associate with man for what they can get out of him: others are pests because they eat our food or bring disease organisms into the house. Others again damage fabrics, furniture, even the structure of a building, and some we dislike having around because they are psychologically disturbing.

The parasites include lice and bed bugs; those which infest food include larder beetles, flour moths and cockroaches. There are those which damage textiles, clothing and soft furnishings, such as clothes moths and carpet beetles and those such as mice, flies and wasps which invade premises at specific times of the year. Casual intruders such as maybugs, lacewings, earwigs, woodlice, clover mites and ground beetles may also enter accidentally. Woodworm, termites and rodents cause physical damage, flies, cockroaches and mice are a threat to health as they carry disease organisms; spiders, furniture mites, wasps or silverfish produce anxiety or distress. Feral pigeons may simply be a nuisance.

Improved standards of living and environmental hygiene have greatly reduced infestations by parasites and many flies, yet developments such as modern central heating, fitted carpets and the continued use of untreated softwood timbers tend to contribute to the growing problems caused by carpet beetles and woodworm. Tropical species like cockroaches now thrive in made-made moist warm climates under hotels, hospitals or in commercial kitchens in temperate zones. There are very many other examples of the way pests change in importance. The replacement of the horse by the motor car probably decimated the fly population. More recently, the synthetic insecticides have added their contribution. The development of resistance to certain pest control chemicals and restrictions on the use of some alternatives have, however, caused a great increase in mouse-infestations and made the struggle against some insects more difficult.

Greater awareness of the need for hygiene in food-manufacture and catering has made us less tolerant of the one or two flies or the occasional mouse dropping in industrial or commercial premises, yet our homes often provide harbourages for potentially dangerous creatures.

There is no doubt that changes in the types of materials used in building construction, the design of buildings and the increases use of central heating are contributing to changes in the incidence of pests in buildings.

No longer do large areas of thatch and wattle and daub harbour resident populations of rodents and birds with their attendant insects. Massive over-mature rafters and joists of hardwood which delighted the Death Watch Beetle have given way to small cross-section timbers of softwood, an ideal diet for the Common Furniture Beetle. Indeed, to have Death Watch Beetle today is practically a status symbol!

Far from ‘building out’ pests by sensible design at drawing board stage, we now install boxed-in pipe runs, false ceilings, concealed ducts and service conduits which provide motorways for mice and highways for cockroaches, with access to all parts, likewise, the artificial micro-climate created within centrally heated buildings, especially where catering is carried on, produces warm humid conditions in which pests of tropical origin such as cockroaches can live regardless of the outside temperature.

The length of life cycle of all insects is very dependent upon temperature and humidity, more generations being produced in warm conditions, and insects such as cat fleas that were once a purely seasonal problem are now active all the year round indoors. Whereas the greater use of synthetic fibres has reduced the risk of moth damage to clothes and soft furnishings, the increased acreage of wall to wall carpets has encouraged the ‘woolly bears’ picnic’ by the hairy grubs of the carpet beetles. It all does seem a matter of swings and roundabouts.

It therefore goes without saying that the development of new rodenticides and insecticides has become both desirable and necessary to ensure the future protection of health, food and property.

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