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Vermin (colloquially varmint or varmit) are pests or nuisance animals, especially those that threaten human society by spreading diseases or destroying crops and livestock. Use of the term implies the need for extermination programs. Since the term is defined in relation to human activities, which species are included vary from area to area and person to person.
The term derives from the Latin vermis (worm), and was originally used for the worm-like larvae of certain insects, many of which infest foodstuffs. The term 'varmint' (and 'vermint') has been found in sources from ca. 1530-1540s.
Varmint or varmit is an American-English colloquialism, particularly common to the American east and South-east within the nearby bordering states of the vast Appalachia region. The term describes farm pests which raid farms as opposed to infest farms—mainly predators such as foxes, weasels, and coyotes, sometimes even wolves or rarely, bears, but also, to a lesser degree, herbivores and burrowing animals that directly damage crops and land.
Although this version of the word "vermin" is not a prevalent term in Standard Written English, it is a common descriptor for certain kinds of weapons and pest control situations in the Appalachian and nearby states and the American west and south-west which have adopted terms such as varmint rifle and varmint hunting.
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Disease-carrying rodents and insects are the usual case, but the term is also applied to larger animals—especially small predators—typically because they consume resources which humans consider theirs, such as livestock and crops. Birds which eat cereal crops and fruit are an example. The American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), is widely hated by farmers because of crop depredation. Pigeons, which have been widely introduced in urban environments, are also sometimes considered vermin. Some varieties of snakes and arachnids may also be referred to as vermin. Vermin is also used as a term for vile people, an enemy of a state or nation, or certain ethnic groups that are considered as subhuman.
Species can develop into vermin if introduced into regions where they find favourable living conditions, and if they face few or no natural enemies there. In such cases, humans often choose to fill the role of the predator to limit the danger to the environment. Examples of vermin include goats on the Galápagos Islands, Rabbits in Australia or cats on Prince Edward Islands. Rats, mice, and cockroaches are common urban and suburban vermin.
Hunting laws and definitions vary by province in Canada. In the province of New Brunswick, groundhogs, coyotes, crows, and cormorants are classified as "varmints", and may be hunted between March 1 to September 20 with the payment of a small fee for a licence.
Under Tudor "vermin laws" many creatures were seen as competitors for the produce of the countryside and bounties were paid by the parish for their carcasses. The declaration of the Red Kite as vermin led to its decline to the point of extinction in the UK by the 20th century. However, the Red Kite is being reintroduced by the trans-location of breeding pairs from Europe.
Origin: 1530–40; var. of vermin