Advances in Rodent Bait Monitoring

A look at the latest types of rodent monitoring devices on the market, with some helpful advice for those thinking of venturing into this area. 

Rodent management programs, especially in large commercial accounts, are labour intensive activities. Pest managers need to carry out regular inspections, check to see if bait has been eaten, re-stock bait stations, analyse the data and write reports. Fortunately, technology is starting to revolutionise rodent control.

Remote rodent monitoring systems using sensors and software for data collection and analysis are already hitting the market in the US. They are certainly viewed as a game-changer in commercial rodent management. We are already seeing a wide variety in the design and technologies used in these systems. Whilst some will undoubtably prove to be better than others, the fact is the products and the technologies they use are just different.

For pest managers looking to tap into this technology it then becomes a question of choosing the right product for a given situation. Indeed, pest managers will need to be familiar with more than one system as it is unlikely that one system will be the best option for all situations. This article is designed to provide a top-line introduction to the considerations when choosing a system.

Sensors are the key data collection component of these new rodent management systems. These may be standalone sensors that can be placed around a facility or sensors incorporated into bait stations or traps.

The standalone motion sensors placed around the facility are triggered by the presence of a rodent, typically using motion or infrared (heat) detectors. As long as sufficient sensors have been installed in appropriate locations, an accurate picture of rodent activity can be obtained. If placed during an inspection, the data generated can guide the treatment regime, in particular regarding the placement of bait stations in activity hotspots. Keeping the sensors in place during a treatment will help determine the success of the program.

Alternatively, sensors can be incorporated into the bait stations or traps. They may be an add-on sensor or may already be built into the station or trap. Some of these sensors are based on infrared technology (sensing radiant heat from the rodents), others are based on motion or touch. Whilst these systems are pretty good at detecting the presence of a rodent, they don’t provide any information as to the level of bait consumed. More sophisticated sensors are being developed that detect the amount of bait eaten. Recent developments have even utilised in-station cameras in conjunction with specialised imaging software to assess the amount of bait consumed, which has been tested using four different bait types (Parsons and Ross, 2020).

Of course this technology doesn’t come cheap – yet. As a result, such systems are currently targeted at commercial use where, with the bigger sites to manage, the significant labour savings can more than off set the additional system costs. The top of the range systems may only be suitable for the biggest commercial accounts, but a range of product options are being developed and launched, which have different features and price points. Some of the ‘lesser’ products may have fewer features but at a lower price point they can still deliver significant benefits to a broader range of accounts. The same applies to the associated data collection method.

Many of these systems are focused on utilising wireless technology to send the data to the cloud for real-time analysis and action. However, a range of different technologies are in use. Ratsense and the Bayer Rodent Monitoring System both use wireless technologies, which allow for complete remote management, whereas systems such as the Bell Laboratories IQ System (main picture, above) require the technician to be on site to pick the data up on their mobile through Bluetooth. Understanding the pros and cons of these systems and which is best for your particular situation/client will influence product choice.

The quality of the analysing software can also make or break the system. Analysing and presenting the data in a meaningful way – to allow both easy decision-making by the pest manager and the creation of summary reports for the client – will undoubtably be a key influencing factor on the purchase decision for pest control companies.

When comparing systems it is also important to have a feel for both the accuracy and sensitivity of the system. An insensitive system many not collect data on all rodent activity and an overly sensitive system may collect non-rodent movement, such as cockroaches. Either can lead to inaccurate results.

Also don’t forget to compare the power usage of these systems and the likely frequency of battery changes.

Whereas cost savings and efficiencies may be the biggest driver in developing such systems, the legislation in place with regard to both lethal traps and live traps means that remote trap monitoring could also become an increasingly significant issue. For lethal traps, it’s important to remove the dead animal as soon as possible. Not only is this important from a hygiene/odour point of view, but dead animals will create avoidance behaviour in other rodents. For live traps, they are meant to be checked every 24 hours and any captured rodents dealt with. Having a system which can send automated alerts allows pest managers to comply with regulations and only have to visit an account if the trap is activated.

As these systems start to find their way to Australia, pest managers will need to learn about the technologies and understand what each product offers, and carry out the cost/benefit analysis to make the correct product choice for each situation.

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