Baiting termites is not without its challenges, but the results speak for themselves believes Bayer’s Wendell Arnett.
Of the 300 or so known species of termite found throughout Australia, most are beneficial to the ecosystem through recycling dead and rotten timber and other plant matter as a food source. However, some of the most common subterranean species pest managers encounter – Coptotermes, Mastotermes, Heterotermes, Schedorhinotermes and Nasutitermes – are responsible for more economic loss than all the other Australian species combined. After decades of testing and product refinement, termite baiting has proven to be a highly successful strategy for controlling and managing subterranean termites. But how did we get here?
Termite treatments of the past
Back in the 1970s, managing termites relied upon the application of highly toxic repellent organochlorine insecticides such as heptachlor, aldrin, and dieldrin. Arsenic dust was also commonly used to achieve termite control. Utilising social behaviour, such as grooming and feeding through trophallaxis, the termite colony could in theory receive a lethal dose of the toxicant resulting in death and possible colony elimination. Unfortunately, the biggest issue with this method was that in many cases the arsenic trioxide killed the termites too quickly before being able to pass on enough of the toxicant to the colony.
Amid growing concern about the safety of organochlorides and arsenic, less toxic alternatives began to be explored. However, it wasn’t until the arrival of a triflumuron-based dust in 1978 that arsenic could be phased out. Triflumuron was the first of the benzoylurea compounds classed as chitin synthesis inhibitors (CSIs), a new kind of active ingredient with low mammalian toxicity.
The rise of non-repellent formulations
Organochlorides were withdrawn in the mid-1990s, at a time when research into non-repellent termiticides was well underway. When Bayer launched Premise 200 SC Termiticide, the first of the non-repellent termiticides that was introduced to the Australian market, it revolutionised the industry due to its improved environmental risk and product safety profile for the consumer as well as the pest manager. However, these types of chemical treatments still require a large amount of chemical to be applied to the foundations of the family home, which some homeowners regard as not being environmentally responsible or safe for their families.
Around this time, alternative strategies for controlling termites in buildings were being developed. Termite baiting was one of these new strategies.
Baiting: a novel technique
Studies undertaken by CSIRO in the 1990s trialled the use of simple wooden bait boxes that were filled with corrugated cardboard and wood strips cut from ash and eucalyptus trees. The principle of the baiting technique was to present an attractive food source in an aggregation device on which the termites set up a feeding site and continue to feed once a toxic bait is added. The non-repellent nature of CSIs, coupled with their slow mode of action and excellent safety profile, were the perfect fit for baiting, and allowed the modern bait market to develop within Australia.
Working with industry professionals and pest managers, Bayer developed the Agenda Termite Baiting System containing chlorfluazuron, a chitin synthesis inhibitor. The active ingredient is impregnated into an alpha cellulose bait matrix that the termites feed on and ingest without detecting it. This method ensures the active ingredient is passed throughout the whole colony, resulting in colony elimination.
In situations where a traditional chemical barrier or treated zone cannot be implemented – perhaps due to the construction of the building or site limitations – a termite baiting system such as Agenda is the ideal choice. CSI-based baiting systems enable the pest manager to potentially gain whole colony control even when a nest cannot be located. Gaining colony control by encouraging feeding at the activity point is a significant advantage over a liquid chemical treated zone.
A flexible system
Sometimes, it is not possible to install a full baiting system. With this in mind, Agenda was developed in a way that gives the pest manager a choice of options that can be fully utilised – above-ground, in-ground and on-ground baiting options. All the Agenda componentry can be purchased separately, making it ideal in a situation where only above ground-baiting is possible, by feeding the termites at the activity point.
However, before installing any bait system, it is important to clearly set the customer’s expectations. A 12-month contract should outline all the work to be carried out and it must be understood that the baiting process may take several weeks or even months, depending on the termite species, colony size and the time of year. Termite baiting it is not the ‘quick fix’ but often the ‘best fix’ – especially for those customers who have had previous chemical treatment failures.
Wendell Arnett, Territory Business Development Manager (NSW/ACT/WA), Professional Pest Management, Bayer