Thrasher Termite & Pest Control is partnering  with University of California Cooperative Extension in a new research study to evaluate subterranean termite bait systems over a two-year period. Subterranean termites are the most destructive species of termites active in Santa Clara County. A single subterranean termite colony may contain millions of hungry, destructive workers. Previous research showed that a typical residential lot often contains multiple unrelated colonies, each attacking the home from different locations. One common treatment method is a liquid perimeter treatment of the home with a pesticide formulated to kill termites. Baiting provides a different, more targeted approach to termite control.

The professional-grade subterranean termite bait systems being studied are all proven to work. This study looks at different aspects of the systems including the success of baiting at the time of installation, the time it takes for Western subterranean termites to find the bait, the number of distinct colonies in a location, and the speed of colony control. This study is being conducted by UC Cooperative Extension with several pest control partner companies. It is funded by California’s Structural Pest Control Board. Thrasher is participating in an evaluation of the Ensystex subterranean termite bait system.

Three San Jose property owners volunteered their homes as field sites for Thrasher Termite & Pest Control and UC Cooperative Extension. Subterranean termites were found within four feet of each of these homes, putting them at risk for infestation and damage. Subterranean termite bait systems were installed around each of the homes and will be monitored for the next two years. For purposes of confidentiality we can’t name these volunteers, but we truly appreciate their willingness to advance the science of termite baiting.

Subterranean termite bait system study team

Subterranean termite bait system study team. [Lower left: Andrew Sutherland, Ph.D, BCE, SF Bay Area IPM Advisor, UCCE; Casey Hubble-Wirgler, Staff Research Associate, UCCE. Kneeling: Matt Faulconer, Technical Representative, Ensystex, Inc.; Mike Perez, Applicator, Thrasher Termite & Pest Control. Standing L-R: Travis Linane, Termite Inspector; Miguel Magana, Pest Control Field Representative; Miguel Torres, Senior Termite Inspector, Thrasher Termite & Pest Control.]

What is Subterranean Termite Baiting?

Subterranean termites live underground in large colonies with queens, workers, and soldiers. They have one food source: dead wood. They do not differentiate between an old stump and the wood framing of your home. Termite bait is made from a woody substance and an active ingredient. It is VERY tasty to termites. Because worker termites share food with other members of the colony, including the queen, the active ingredient will make its way through the colony. The active ingredient in termite baits prevent completion of molting, an essential process for a termite that involves shedding its exoskeleton and growing a new exoskeleton. When proper molting is inhibited the termite dies.

Subterranean termite bait is low in toxicity to humans and other mammals because we don’t have exoskeletons. Another creature without an exoskeleton is the salamander! On our very first inspection of the bait stations post installation, we found three California slender salamanders happily living inside a bait station. It was great to see this sensitive animal so at home.

Subterranean termite bait also has low impact on non-targeted insects for two good reasons: the bait is placed in below-ground in containers and the bait is only attractive to insects that eat wood.

California slender salamanders living in termite bait station

California slender salamanders living in a subterranean termite bait station.

Subterranean Termite Bait Stations

Subterranean termite bait stations vary depending upon manufacturer and the type of bait used. In our photos from the UC Cooperative Extension study, two stations are seen side-by-side. Stations are usually placed singly 15 to 20 feet apart in the soil around the house. In these side-by-side installations, one station contains bait with the active ingredient; the other station contains non-toxic wood blocks for monitoring purposes.

Subterranean termite bait station with non-toxic monitoring block.

Subterranean termite bait station with non-toxic monitoring block installed next to a station containing active ingredients.

 

Monitor blocks removed from a station after 90-days are covered in subterranean termite mud shelter tubes containing live termites. These termites were collected and sent to a lab for DNA testing to identify their colony.

 

Subterranean termite on bait bag at the 90-day inspection

Subterranean termite on bait bag at the 90-day inspection. This termite and others in this station will be sent for DNA testing.

 

Covering pealed back from the bait reveals consumed areas of bait.

Covering pealed back from the bait bag reveals consumed areas of bait (the clean white areas). Note the live termite in the shadow directly above the glove.

How quickly is a house at risk for subterranean termite infestation?

ALL THE TIME! 90-days prior to the photos below, non-toxic wood blocks were placed around Site 1 to monitor subterranean termite activity. At the 90-day inspection, we anticipated finding worker termites from an existing colony. Instead, on the monitor block we found a mated pair of adult termites in the process of establishing a new colony. We don’t know where these two reproductive adults originated. Periodically a healthy subterranean termite colony will produce reproductive adults in addition to soldiers and workers. The reproductive adults are dark  brown and have wings. When they emerge from the soil, they flutter on the wind up to half a mile, mate and drop their wings. This particular mated pair then found their way beneath a three inch concrete paver, and down another six inches to the bottom of the wood monitor. They were discovered in February (winter). This pair is likely waiting for the weather to warm before the queen starts laying eggs to build a new colony.

Mated pair of termites

Mated pair of subterranean termites on a wood monitor.

 

Subterranean Termite Mated Alate

Closeup of a reproductive subterranean termite, one of a mated pair. Note the remnants of wings located two sections behind the head.

 

Subterranean termite winged reproductive adults

Example of subterranean termite winged reproductive adults before taking flight.