Activity - When is a Pest?

Skills: Critical thinking, integration, discussion, presentation, math
Activity - When is a Pest? - Articles


Edward L. Manigault, Clemson University Donated Collection,


Everyone knows what a pest is, right? Or do they? Whether or not some organism is considered to be a pest depends on the situation, a person's point of view and other "non-scientific" factors.

Consider this statement. If there were no humans on earth, there would be no "pests". Or would there? Differing opinions about pest status often leads to controversy in private and public life about what to do about the "pest problem" at hand. This activity is designed to bring up questions in a group setting and allow the participants to clarify what, when and where a certain organism is or is not a pest and why.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand that "pest" is a human construct rather than a "natural" category
  2. Understand the wide range of organisms that can potentially be "pests"
  3. Explore the different roles a species has besides pestering humans
  4. Learn varying points of view on when a certain species IS and IS NOT a pest
  5. Learn how management of a particular species will depend upon a person's perspective

Materials Needed:

  • Paper and pencil
  • Timeline: 30 - 50 minutes


  1. Have students form small groups of 5-6, each individual with a piece of paper. Write at the top:
    • Organism
    • Pest
    • Not a Pest
  2. Explain to them you want them to each silently spend 5-10 minutes writing down the name of any organism they think might be a pest in the left-hand column. Then they write when or where it is a pest under "Pest" column. If they can think of a situation where or when that SAME organism is NOT a pest, write that down in the far right-hand column. Keep it simple, for e.g.Organism - Racoon
    • Pest - in the garbage can
    • Not a Pest - in the woods
  3. After the individual students have quietly listed all their pests, have them compare notes within their group by going around the table and each reading their answers. On each pest read aloud, see if the others in the group agree or disagree. Have the first student to reads their answers be the group recorder. This person will add each new species to his or her list as each is mentioned. Note how many times the same organisms were mentioned (e.g. 5 out of 5 students said mosquitoes).
  4. Have one student from each group be the reporter and present their group's long list to the class. Have one student write the names of the species on the board as the group's report. If there are points where they cannot reach agreement, have them report back to the class what the different perspectives were.


  1. Look under the column listing all the organisms. How many times were the same species mentioned? (Ask for a show of hands.) These are likely to be very annoying or harmful species to many people. You can use this list later or over time in the class to build on the concept of pests and develop pest management activities aimed at organisms the students themselves find bothersome.
  2. Look at the column containing all the situations in which the organisms were listed as a "Pest". What do these situations have in common? (Most likely they are all human endeavors of some sort or spoiling something that humans value.)
  3. Look at the column deemed "Not a Pest". What do these scenarios have in common? (Most likely they are a role played by the species in the natural environment and/or their use as food, pleasure or research purposes for humans.)
  4. For optional math exercise, you can have the students look at the list on the board and:
  • rank the "All Time Number One Pest According to Mrs. Smith's Class";
  • calculate percent of the time a pest was mentioned,
  • calculate total number of species mentioned; or
  • how many different types of species are represented in the list (plants, vertebrates, invertebrates, fungi, microbes).


By this point, plenty of discussion will have happened. You can also ask the group other questions, such as: "Should potential pests be treated the same wherever they occur?" "Is there a way we can now define when an organisms is and is not a pest?"


  • When Is a Pest Data Sheet
  • Organism Pie Chart
  • Species-scape

What is IPM?

Pest management has a long history (see that section on p. 13), but the IPM approach is relatively recent. Integrated pest management is a scientific, step-wise approach to pest management. IPM steps "integrate" knowledge of pest identity and biology, with population sampling information - so actions, if any, can be taken at just the right time. Further, the IPM approach uses a combination of management tactics that are identified as most likely to be safe and effective in a particular pest scenario. Prevention and early intervention is emphasized to avoid pests outbreaks.

What are key ecological and social issues addressed by IPM?

IPM is a valuable classroom topic because it addresses a number of large, current issues in our society today. A few of these are:

  • human and animal infectious disease (vectors)
  • environmental safety and health tradeoffs
  • pesticide pollution
  • invasive species and biodiversity
  • uses of biological control in the environment
  • uses of genetic engineering in pest management
  • food security
  • role of government in environmental decision-making
  • many others you can list!

How does IPM fit into the Academic Standards?

First, even though IPM is a human endeavor, rather than a "natural" ecological system, human activities increasingly impact ecological systems in negative ways. Consequently, how we humans understand and manage our "environment" responsibly is important for long-term sustainability and health of all. To learn to "manage" a pest population in a specific environment is a real-world learning situation involving learning and understanding connections between disciplines.

Further, the term "environment" applies not only to an ecosystem but also to our every-day, immediate environments including work/school environment, home/yard environment, urban or suburban neighborhood and even our own bodies (remember "cooties"? Read on!). It is in these places that the results of our actions, such as pest management actions, affect us most immediately. For example, students may not be able to relate easily to a "desert ecosystem" but they can relate to fleas on their dog, mosquitoes on their camping trip, cockroaches in the kitchen and, heaven forbid, head lice in school - all common pest scenarios!

How can IPM fit into YOUR curriculum?

You are a teacher, swamped with material to cover, right? How are you supposed to add more?
Don't panic! It is not as difficult as it may seem. In many cases, the pest organisms can be fit in as an extension or reorientation of elements of your current subjects. For example; is your class studying plants? A weed is merely a plant with special characteristics. Studying animals? A deer can serve many functions in ecosystems and to humans, they can be a joy to watch, a sport to hunt or a pest! After all, the dynamics at work in Environment and Ecology are interactions of plant and animal biology, chemistry, water and soil, weather and of course, humans. All of these are key players in IPM problem-solving because IPM is the scientific, ecological approach to pest management. How humans choose to intervene in pest management has a profound impact on the environment; whether that environment is their body, their house, yard, neighborhood, park, school, field, forest, or stream. These current-day issues can be fit into your curriculum in creative ways.

So what can we learn by exploring the Integrated Pest Management approach? Let's find out!


Academic Standards for E & E
Watersheds and Wetlands
Physical Factors
Organisms and Ecosystems

Ecosystems and Their Interactions
Living and Nonliving Components
Change over time

Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources
Influential Factors

Threatened, Endangered and Extinct Species
Management Strategies

Humans and the Environment
Societal Needs
Human Impacts
Supply and Demand

Environmental Health
Environmental Health Issues
Human Actions
Biological Diversity

Agriculture and Society
Society's Needs
Agricultural Systems
Technology Meteorology

Environmental Laws and Regulations
Environmental Laws and their Impacts
Factors Affecting Laws

Integrated Pest Management
Effects, Benefits and Impacts
Health Risks
Management Practices

IPM Standard
Integrated Disciplines of IPM