Published on 08/18/97

New Termite Baits Not Best Control Choice

When termites are munching on your home, you'll try anything to get rid of the tiny destroyers. But a University of Georgia expert said newer isn't always better when it comes to termite control.

"Termite control for the past 50 years has relied on the application of 300 gallons of insecticide solution around the home or structure," said Brian Forschler, a research entomologist in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"Because of the public's increased environmental awareness and desire to reduce pesticide exposure," he said, "the Environmental Protection Agency has fast-tracked the registration of an alternative control tactic, termite baits."

Three new termite bait products have been introduced for use by pest-control operators. But Forschler said there hasn't been much research to see how well they work.

"The EPA has taken a stance as stewards of the environment by approving the registration of environmentally friendly products, not as judges of the product's effectiveness," he said. "This is a case in which the buyer should beware."

Each year Georgians spend $56 million on termite control and damage repair.

"Termite control involves protecting the single largest investment in people's lives," Forschler said. "These new baits are being sold at up to twice the price of conventional tactics. And it's my view right now that they aren't any better."

Forschler said people may pay much more in the long run for choosing environmentally friendly products.

"With termite control, you may have to wait three to five years before you find out you've wasted the money you've been spending on protection," he said. "By then, you could have damage-repair costs in the thousands of dollars."

Forschler is head of the UGA Household Structural Entomology program at the Georgia Experiment Station. Over the past five years he has been studying more than 100 termite colonies. He has researched every control method available, including the new baits.

"Termite baits are a control tactic that shows promise. But they are still in the experimental stages," he said. "I would only recommend a bait product if it involved special circumstances where conventional control cannot be attempted. Around wells and ponds, for instance."

Baits can be deadly for ant colonies, in which workers carry food back to the nests for queens and babies. But termites aren't ants.

"We've found that if termites have a central nesting place, it's very mobile," Forschler said. "And unlike ants, termites eat food that's stationary, like your house. They tunnel through their food and eat what they're standing on."

Baits are designed to be appealing food to termites, which return to their nests to share the poison.

"We don't think this happens in termite colonies," he said. "They find food, and they all stay in that spot for a while to feed before moving to the next food source."

The baits are also based on an assumption that all termites are the same.

"Textbooks say there are three species. But we've found evidence of up to six species here in Georgia," Forschler said. "Just like with ants and cockroaches, you have to know the species before you determine what pest-control tactic to use."

Most of the termite baits also involve placing bait tubes into the ground around the infested structure. But some types of termites may prefer to feed on surface, not buried, wood. So the baits may not affect them.

"We've been field-testing termite baits for the past four years," Forschler said. "And we will continue to do so as new products and improvements to existing products are introduced."

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.