Termites: Termite Baiting for Control
A wonderful new technology is making its way onto the market for termite control, and this is the use of "bait" for termite control. The potential benefit to people and the environment is tremendous, but there are still hurdles to overcome, and without a doubt there can be terrible misunderstanding by the general public.
For decades our traditional control of subterranean termites has been based on the knowledge that the termites must enter the structure from their underground colonies, and move back to that colony on a regular basis to take food back to colony members. A layer of toxic chemical on the soil, under a structure, becomes a barrier that the termites are unable to pass through without being killed. However the colony itself, well below ground, is not harmed.
Thus, the structure is protected if the chemical layer is placed correctly and thoroughly, providing no breaks for the foraging termites to find. However, worker termites will continually seek a way to get past this layer and gain access to the wood of the structure. A colony of hundreds of thousands of workers may have food being gathered from dozens of locations at the same time, and the workers are looking for new sources continually.
Even when a perfect chemical treatment is done, the chemical does not last forever. In fact, since the elimination of some of the excellent products, such as chlordane, the termiticides available for the professional industry today last anywhere from 5 to 15 years. They degrade under the influence of conditions such as heat, moisture, exposure to sunlight, etc., and disappear from the soil, leaving the home unprotected once again.
Termite baits work because they are providing a food to the termites. Workers which have discovered the bait return it to the colony, and over time the colony is destroyed as more and more of the workers, as well as the primary and supplementary Queens, eat the bait. By placing bait stations carefully around a structure the benefits can be:
- Less toxic material placed in the environment
- Possible elimination of the termite colony, rather than simply holding it at bay
- Selectively affecting only termites, and no other organisms around the home
There is still a great deal of discussion and research to determine exactly how efficiently this "colony elimination" actually works, however commercial baits appear definitely to be having some beneficial effect in reducing the termite feeding activity on structures. Recent field studies by the University of California seem to confirm that entire colonies of termites may actually be eliminated.
There is nothing that actually attracts termites to the bait tubes - they simply stumble upon it as they forage here and there for new food sources. Therefore, there really is no guarantee that the bait tubes you place in the ground will be found by termites. However, if placed strategically where termites are likely to be foraging (near moist areas, wood piles, etc.) or near known termite activity, the chances are good that they will. An analogy might be that if we were to place a blindfold on someone, and ask him to find a basketball set on a gymnasium floor, eventually he will.
Currently there are several termite bait products in use, and one may even be available for homeowners to buy themselves. However, it is the knowledge the professional applicator has, to determine the best sites in which to place the monitoring and bait stations, to inspect them regularly and interpret what is found, and to proceed with the appropriate course of action when termites are found in the stations, that will determine whether or not a program of termite baiting will be successful.
Baits currently in use by licensed pest control companies include:
- Sentricon / Recruit - uses a growth regulator in the bait matrix
- First Line - uses a low hazard stomach poison in the bait
- Exterra / Labyrinth - uses a growth regulator in the bait
- TermaTrol - currently is a monitoring station only, without a bait material
Along with properly built homes, good moisture control, good structural integrity, and other factors which make the home less attractive and available to termites, this bait may work well to reduce or eliminate the termites feeding on your home. The results you might expect could include:
- Termites quickly finding the bait and feeding on it
- No activity whatsoever in the bait stations
- No activity for weeks or months, and then suddenly termites feeding in the stations
- Termites feeding in the stations and then abandoning them
- Termites feeding in the stations and the colony being eliminated
There still is a lot to learn.
Termite baits definitely are an excellent, termite-specific, low-hazard method for attempting control, but it is always preferred that the homeowner understand the limitations and what truly should be expected from their use. While it sounds simple enough to just stick some plastic tubes in the ground and let the termites have their way with them, there really is a great deal more to baiting if it is to be successful. For this reason, it may be preferred to contact a licensed pest control company in your area, and ask them to evaluate your situation to determine how likely it will be that termite bait can eliminate your termite problem, and possibly prevent it from recurring.
When a professional, licensed pest control company offers to place the termite monitoring stations around your home, what is it that you really are getting?
First, they will place "Monitoring" stations. These are generally tasty pine sticks set into plastic tubes that are placed in the soil in strategic locations. The tubes have "child resistant" caps so things cannot be disturbed. The professional then inspects the stations on a regular basis to see whether or not termites have discovered the food source.
When termites are discovered in the monitoring stations the pine sticks are replaced with the actual bait tubes, which are filled with the material which will kill the termites as they feed on it. With any luck the termites continue to feed at that point, and if they keep on feeding on the bait that is offered, and replaced at regular intervals, it may result in the complete elimination of that colony of termites.
What does termite baiting NOT mean to you?
- That all termite colonies around your home are eliminated - it affects only the colonies actively feeding in the bait tubes. One study found 8 separate colonies under a single home.
- That you are guaranteed NOT to get termites in your home. Foraging workers could very well move right past the monitoring stations without detecting them.
- That you quickly can eliminate termites - even if they begin to feed on the bait in a short period of time, it could take months to eliminate that colony, or any of the other variables mentioned earlier.
Termite baiting is an excellent step in termite control. It offers an Early Warning System that may allow you to discover the presence of termite pressure on your home. Over time, without a doubt, new technologies will be discovered that provide attractants that can actually draw termites to the bait from some distance away, speeding up the time to control. It offers our only current ability to actually eliminate the termites from under your home.