Liquid soil treatments remain a popular method for creating a protective perimeter around a property, with new research testing their effectiveness in extreme weather conditions.
Latest termite soil treatment research
The performance of discontinuous soil treatments
Soil treatments with non-repellent chemicals, especially fipronil, are seen as ‘forgiving’ treatments. This is because even if a small area is left untreated, either through poor application or unknown chemical movement (as can happen when injecting under a slab), it is assumed that since the termites cannot detect the chemical, the chances of the termites entering through a small untreated area without also passing through a treated area is very small. To test this theory, researchers in Japan carried out a long-term trial to understand the performance of discontinuous soil treatments in the field.1
Using a large number of monitoring stations and genetic analysis, the researchers mapped the termite activity and the number of colonies present in two different locations. At location A there were two colonies of Coptotermes formosanus and two colonies of Reticulitermes speratus and at location B there were five colonies of Reticulitermes speratus. Around one of the monitoring stations at each site, where there was confirmed termite activity, an incomplete soil treatment was carried out by applying fipronil solutions into holes around the target monitoring station, creating a zone of alternating treated and untreated soil. Termite activity was then monitored over the following three years.
At location A, no termites were found in the monitoring station within the discontinuous treated zone for the three-year monitoring period after application. The Coptotermes colony that was foraging at the treated monitor station at the time of the application was not seen at any of the monitoring stations across the site for 28 months, then they reappeared. This indicates that the colony had been suppressed for a period, but not eliminated. However, the other Coptotermes colony and the two Reticulitermes colonies remained active in monitoring stations in other areas of the location throughout the trial.
At location B, the colony that had been present in the monitoring station within the discontinuous treated zone was not observed in any monitoring stations post treatment and was assumed to be eliminated. However, three years after application, termites from a different colony were observed back in the monitoring station within the discontinuous treated zone. A second nearby colony, although not observed feeding on the station within the treated zone, was only observed once, six months after the treatment, so it may also have been affected.
So, what does this mean for pest managers? Firstly, that discontinuous treatments can be forgiving, in that they can still sometimes provide elimination and protection but certainly not in all cases. The fact that a different Reticulitermes colony was back in the monitoring station within the discontinuous treated zone within three years demonstrates that there is still a chance the termites could build a tunnel through a gap, and the chances of that being successful will depend on the size of the gap. So, as per product labels and best practice, pest managers should still always aim to apply a continuous treated zone.
Interestingly, the researchers also recorded termites containing fipronil some distance from the treated zone — 28 metres in the case of Coptotermes and six metres in the case of Reticulitermes. This is longer than the five metres suggested in laboratory studies. However, the distance a termite will move after being exposed to a termiticide will always be dose dependent, so these observations are not mutually exclusive. However, despite the observation that Coptotermes termites containing fipronil were recorded some distance from the treatment, it wasn’t enough to deliver colony control. In summary, as other research has shown, the ability of soil treatments to deliver colony control is somewhat limited.
1 Itakura, Shuji & Ohdake, Johji & Takino, Takashi & Umezawa, Kiwamu. (2021). Colony Suppression and Possible Colony Elimination of the Subterranean Termites Coptotermes formosanus and Reticulitermes speratus by Discontinuous Soil Treatment Using a Diluent of Fipronil Suspension Concentrate. Insects. 12. 334. 10.3390/insects12040334.
Termite Professional Australian edition, 2021
Effect of temperature on termiticide degradation
The longevity of termiticides in soil is a key factor that determines their success in providing buildings with longterm protection from termite attack. The persistence of a termiticide in soil is determined by the intrinsic properties of the termiticide such as its stability to UV, hydrolysis and microbial breakdown, water solubility and soil-binding characteristics. Soil characteristics including pH, organic content, clay/sand composition and microbial content also play a role, as do environmental factors such as rainfall and temperature.
Establishing the half-life of a termiticide – the time taken for its concentration in the soil to be reduced by 50% – is a key measure in determining the required initial dose. The reported half-life for the common termiticides will often vary greatly depending on the methodology, in particular the soil used and the temperature at which the assessment has been carried out. Researchers in Malaysia have recently completed a half-life study on three common termiticides, which according to the researchers, is the first published data on these termiticides in tropical soils under tropical conditions.1
Termiticides were mixed at a variety of concentrations and applied as a 100 ml mix into 1 kg of soil (either sandy loam or loamy sand) and placed in sealed plastic containers at either 30°C or 40°C. As is common with soil residue studies, variability makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions from the data; indeed in this study the researchers could not determine whether the soil type or temperature had an effect on termiticide half-life (although temperature is known to decrease half-life). One month after application, the researchers recorded a noticeable drop in the levels of termiticide. Imidacloprid show the biggest drop in concentration, followed by fipronil, with bifenthrin showing the least degradation. When calculated over the duration of the trial, the reported half-lives were: bifenthrin 69-166 days; fipronil 33-57 days; and imidacloprid 33-55 days.
A lot more data about the performance of termiticides under tropical conditions is required to form a comprehensive data set to draw firm conclusions. Whilst half-life data provides useful information on a termiticide, it does not necessarily mean the active with the longest half-life will make the best termiticide. However, data such as the half-life is taken into account when developing a product and arriving at an application rate. All other parameters being equal, a termiticide with a shorter half-life will need a higher initial application concentration than a termiticide with a longer half-life.
Flooding and soil termiticides
The impact of rainfall on soil-applied termiticides is a key consideration in choosing an appropriate product, or indeed deciding whether a soil-applied termiticide is a suitable treatment at all. What level of rainfall does the area typically receive? What is the soil type being treated? Is it a sloping block? Is the area close to a river? All of these questions come into sharper focus when a major rain event hits or during periods of flooding. What happens to the treatment and is a re-treatment necessary?
The behaviour of termiticides in soil is largely dependent on their intrinsic solubility in water, their ability to bind to the soil (KoC) and their stability (rate of hydrolysis). Looking into this in greater depth, researchers from Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in the US set out to investigate the impact of flooding on termiticide residues.2 Their study focused on four formulated termiticides based on fipronil, imidacloprid, chlorantraniliprole or bifenthrin as the active ingredient. Dosing both sand and soil substrates at 1, 10 and 25 ppm, the treated soils were allowed to fully dry for two days before being exposed to a flooding methodology for one week. Untreated sand and soil samples were exposed to the same regime. The substrate samples were then analysed for termiticide residues and also assessed for efficacy by introducing Coptotermes formosanus workers and soldiers to the substrates.
The results demonstrated that the residues of all the termiticides were reduced on flooding and that the reduction in termiticide residues was greater in sand than in soil for all the termiticides tested. This observation is consistent with previous studies that have indicated that the level of organic material in the soil has a significant influence on the rate of leaching; termiticides showed lower levels of leaching in soils with higher levels of organic content.
In ranking the termiticides, the authors concluded that imidacloprid was the most leachable insecticide, bifenthrin was the least leachable insecticide, and fipronil and chlorantraniliprole were somewhere in between. (Due to the lack of replications in the chemical analysis the authors were not comfortable in drawing more precise ranking conclusions.)
It is of course important to understand the efficacy of any treatment after a flooding event. In soil treatments in the study, although there was clearly a drop in the levels of each active, there was no difference in the level of mortality between flooded and un-flooded samples at all application rates for all actives, except the 1 ppm bifenthrin treatment where there was a significant drop in efficacy.
However, with the sand treatments, a number of significant drops in efficacy were recorded. Fipronil originally dosed at 1 ppm was no longer efficacious after flooding and imidacloprid showed significant reductions in efficacy at all doses. Interestingly, chlorantraniliprole showed significant increases in mortality at the 10 ppm and 25 ppm levels. The authors hypothesised that this increase may be due to increased bioavailability after flooding, noting that the mortality was lower in soil than in sand – suggesting that the organic content in soil impacts chlorantraniliprole efficacy. Bifenthrin showed no drop in efficacy in any of the treatment levels.
This particular study did not assess the impact of hydrolysis, which can also occur as a result of flooding. Fipronil, imidacloprid and chlorantraniliprole hydrolysis is high under basic conditions but these actives tend to be stable under acidic and neutral soil conditions.
The results of this study suggest that the more water-soluble termiticides are unlikely to provide protection after a flooding event, and that even the least soluble termiticides will have a reduced duration of protection.
The study provides a good understanding of what happens to the various chemicals under flood conditions, but the reality of making a decision of whether and when to re-treat after a flooding event is a little more complex. There is no way of knowing the actual level of active remaining in the soil without taking samples for chemical analysis. With the need to take numerous samples from around the site, the cost to do this is likely to be prohibitive. The other key issue with flooding that this trial does not address, is the reality that additional soil and silt is brought in with the flood water, thus creating an untreated zone on top of the treated zone.
In the event of a flood, liquid termiticide treatments will undoubtedly be compromised – so it’s necessary to discuss potential actions with your supplier and insurer. Pest managers must consider both sides of the insurance situation, for themselves and their customers. Home and contents insurance providers would generally accept a claim if the homeowner had flood cover selected and had a termite barrier in place. Insurance companies would consider the barrier as structural improvement – and it is in their best interest to ensure the home is protected.
Regarding any warranties that pest managers have offered their customers, it really is necessary to review each situation on its merit and get input from both the product supplier and insurer before recommending a course of action.
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1 Rashid, M.F.M., Ab Majid, A.H., 2020. Effect of Different Temperatures on the Degradation Rate and Half-Life of Termiticides in Tropical Soils under Laboratory Condition. MALAYSIAN JOURNAL OF SOIL SCIENCE 24, 33–48.
2 Sapkota et al. (2020). Residual Effects of Termiticides on Mortality of Formosan Subterranean Termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) on Substrates Subjected to Flooding. Journal of Economic Entomology, 113 (1): 367-374.