Pest (organism)

Carpet beetle larvae damaging a specimen of Sceliphron destillatorius in an entomological collection

A pest is "a plant or animal detrimental to humans or human concerns (as agriculture or livestock production)";[1] alternative meanings include organisms that cause nuisance and epidemic disease associated with high mortality (specifically: plague). In its broadest sense, a pest is a competitor of humanity.[2]


A pest is any living organism which is invasive or prolific, detrimental, troublesome, noxious, destructive, a nuisance to either plants or animals, human or human concerns, livestock, or human structures. It is a loose concept, as an organism can be a pest in one setting but beneficial, domesticated or acceptable in another.

Pests often occur in high densities, making the damage they do even more detrimental. Termite

Often animals are derided as pests as they cause damage to agriculture by feeding on crops or parasitising livestock, such as codling moth on apples, or boll weevil on cotton. An animal could also be a pest when it causes damage to a wild ecosystem or carries germs within human habitats. Examples of these include those organisms which vector human disease, such as rats and fleas which carry the plague disease, mosquitoes which vector malaria, and ticks which carry Lyme disease.

The term pest may be used to refer specifically to harmful animals but is also often taken to mean all harmful organisms including weeds, plant pathogenic fungi and viruses. Pesticides are chemicals and other agents (e.g. beneficial micro-organisms) that are used to control or protect other organisms from pests. The related term vermin has much overlap with pest, but generally only includes those creatures that are seen to be vectors of diseases.

It is possible for an animal to be a pest in one setting but beneficial or domesticated in another (for example, European rabbits introduced to Australia caused ecological damage beyond the scale they inflicted in their natural habitat). Many weeds are also seen as useful under certain conditions, for instance Patterson's curse is often valued as food for honeybees and as a wildflower, even though it can poison livestock.

The greatest importance as pests (in the order of economic importance) are insects, mites, nematodes and gastropods.[3]

The term "plant pest" has a very specific definition in terms of the International Plant Protection Convention and phytosanitary measures worldwide. A pest is any species, strain or biotype of plant, animal, or pathogenic agent injurious to plants or plant products.[4]

Plants may be considered pests themselves if an invasive species. Any prolific animal or plant may be considered pests.

Thus in contrast, to the single term "pest", in composite terms, e.g. "plant pest", "agricultural pest" "livestock pest", the emphasis is always on the organisms or ecosystems infested and affected. This distinction is followed below.

Classification by harmful organisms

Vertebrate pests

Seagulls steal human food




Invertebrate pests


Further information: Insect bites and stings, Pest insects, and Category:Pest insects
Caterpillars cause crop damage
Termites cause structural damage


Land snail pests include:



Some slugs are pests in both agriculture and gardens. Their significance is increasing drastically.[3] Deroceras reticulatum is a worldwide distributed slug pest.[3] Local importance slug pests include: Deroceras spp.,[3] Milax spp.,[3] Tandonia sp.,[3] Limax spp.,[3] Arion spp.[3] and some species of Veronicellidae:[3] Veronicella sloanei.[11]

Plant pests

Further information: Invasive plant species and Weed

Tree and forest pests

See also


  1. Merriam-Webster dictionary, accessed 22 August 2012.
  2. "Pest vermin". Britannica. Retrieved 24 August 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Speiser B. (2002). "Chapter 219. Molluscicides". 506–508. doi:10.1201/NOE0824706326.ch219 PDF In: Pimentel D. (ed.) (2002). Encyclopedia of Pest Management. ISBN 978-0-8247-0632-6.
  4. FAO Corporate Document Repository: Guidelines for Phytosanitary Certificates. Retrieved 2012-08-01.
  5. Pest Profile Of Pigeons: Diet And Health Concerns
  6. Lowe S., Browne M., Boudjelas S. and de Poorter M. (2000). 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species. A selection from the Global Invasive Species Database. The Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG), a specialist group of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), Auckland.
  7. "ABC Wildwatch". Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  8. Greenhall, Arthur M. 1961. Bats in Agriculture. A Ministry of Agriculture Publication. Trinidad and Tobago
  9. Villalobos M. C., Monge-Nájera J., Barrientos Z. & Franco J. (1995). "Life cycle and field abundance of the snail Succinea costaricana (Stylommatophora: Succineidae), a tropical pest". Revista de Biología Tropical 43: 181-188. PDF.
  10. Barrientos Z. (1998). "Life history of the terrestrial snail Ovachlamys fulgens (Stylommatophora: Helicarionidae) under laboratory conditions". Revista de Biología Tropical 46(2): 369-384. PDF. HTM in the Google chache.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Stange L. A. (created September 2004, updated March 2006). "Snails and Slugs of Regulatory Significance to Florida". Division of Plant Industry, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Accessed 27 August 2010.

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pest insects.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Pests.
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