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THE HISTORY OF TERMITE BAITING IN AUSTRALIA

Dr Don Ewart takes a look at the history of termite baiting in Australia. 

There is an ever-increasing range of modern termite baits on the market. However, unless you have been around the industry a long time (a very long time!), you probably won’t know the history of bait development in Australia.

A bit of history

Putting out food to trap termites has been used as a technique for a long time. There is evidence of it being used in China many centuries back. More recently CSIRO had considered it at least as far back as the 1960s. With a bit of luck, the upcoming Howick and Staunton ‘history’ book will flesh this out for us.

I began baiting termites in 1979, but back then it was purely for ecological studies. Even back then, baiting appeared to have been considered a combination of part science, part art – some walkers stumbling upon my grids of wrapped toilet paper rolls assumed they were meant to be a desert landscape sculpture!

It was only through the 1980s, when working with Dr John French, we developed systems to bait termites in their mounds.

In the early 1990s this lead to the CSIRO bait box technique, a process where termites were aggregated, separated, dusted with arsenic and then allowed to return home. Although CSIRO no longer do termite work, you can still read about it on my website (drdons.net).

Tom Boschma of Specialist Termite Control was instrumental in the system development, doing the first commercial bait jobs. In 1995, Dr French ran a series of termite baiting workshops around Australia and baiting became mainstream.

However, Australian ideas on termite baiting took a back seat as commercial baiting systems arrived from the United States, based on hexaflumuron. Sentricon from Dow was the first commercial baiting product to hit the market in Australia. The Dow baits were developed by Prof Nan-Yao Su, and largely based on the termite trapping methods of Professor Minoru Tamashiro used at the University of Hawaii. These American baits were all much smaller than those being used in Australia.

The first Exterra work was done by David Pearson’s PCT International who, under advice, worked on a different active, the now familiar chlorfluazuron and slightly larger baits. Exterra moved their bait and Steve Broadbent away from PCT to begin their fast-growing Australian business.  PCT responded quickly with their essentially similar bait, named Nemesis and further developed with Kevin Girard. Now we also have TermatriX, Xterm, Agenda and more.

Lessons learned

Our early baits were wooden boxes filled with corrugated cardboard and wood strips. We knew from CSIRO laboratory work that the preferred timbers were kiln dried and cut from the Ash trees, Eucalyptus regnans and Eucalyptus delegatensis.

The research with bait boxes brought in other developments including:

  • The use of polystyrene boxes instead of timber
  • A papered window where termite spotting would show activity without disturbance
  • The use of carbon dioxide amendment (via active compost) to improve the gaseous environment
  • The practice of introducing other treated termites – Trojan Termites – to help spread the dose where bait uptake was slow.

A ‘good bait’ could be almost any shape, from a plastic bag of paper to a cardboard suitcase filled with wood. Dr French did a lot of work on feeding promoters – partly decayed and weathered timbers worked better than fresh.

Early baiting systems used dusting with arsenic to achieve control. However, studies with Mirex, demonstrated the way forward. Mirex, a non-repellent (when suitably purified), was readily taken in treated bait blocks and killed whole colonies at very small doses. Unfortunately, being an organochlorine the writing was on the wall for Mirex. Despite getting ‘extra time’ in Northern Australia for use on termites and ants, Mirex was phased out in the late 1980s.

Other effective toxins were tested, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Intrigue Dust from Bayer that arsenic could be supplanted for box work. Intrigue contained triflumuron, the first of the benzoylurea compounds classed as chitin synthesis inhibitors (CSIs). The ‘non-repellent’ nature of chitin synthesis inhibitors coupled with their slow mode of action and excellent safety profile, allowed the modern bait market to develop.

Where from here?

The ideal baiting system should mimic the wood source the termites would normally attack, needs to be big enough to support a decent feeding group and must use a non-repellent toxin which takes at least hours before any mortality occurs.

In the real world, baiting also needs to meet the needs of property owners – performance (in eradicating termites and protecting property), safety/environmental profile and value for money.

The value for money proposition could come under threat from the expansion in DIY baiting options. These DIY products deliver the consumer message that baiting is ‘cheap and easy’! We all know it’s not, but it doesn’t stop the potential damage to our industry.

We now have a wide range of well-supported termite baits. They all have pros and cons and not all are suited to all species, regions or applications. It is important that industry has access to unbiased information and proper trainind, so pest managers could utilise the appropriate baiting product for the species in their region.

More information on termite treatments

Dr Don Ewart

Dr Don Ewart, a doctor of termites, is a consultant to industry and pest managers, teaches pest management for Melbourne Polytechnic, Chairs the Standards Australia committee, helps AEPMA with Codes of Practice and still fits in the occasional scientific paper – you can find him at Dr Don’s Termite Pages.