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by Michael F. Potter, Extension Entomologist

University of Kentucky College of Agriculture

A growing number of pest control firms are now using termite baits as an alternative form of treatment. As more companies offer this option, homeowners will be seeking information and advice as to which approach— bait or conventional ‘barrier’ treatment— is most effective. Additional questions will be raised about the new “do-it-yourself” termite bait being sold through retail outlets. This publication provides an update on termite baits for consumers.

For years, the standard method of controlling subterranean termites was to apply a liquid pesticide (termiticide) to the soil. The goal was to block all potential routes of termite entry into the structure. Termites attempting to penetrate the treated soil were either killed or repelled. While the majority of liquid barrier treatments are successful, at times they have failed to provide adequate protection.

There are, in fact, many obstacles to achieving a continuous termiticide barrier around and beneath a building. It is hard to uniformly wet soil, and many potential termite entry points are hidden behind walls, floor coverings, and other obstructions. Termites can tunnel through small untreated gaps as narrow as pencil lead, so it is understandable that conventional liquid treatments sometimes fail to correct a termite problem.

The Bait Concept

Termite baiting is an entirely different concept. With this approach, tiny amounts of insecticide are deployed like edible “smart missiles” to knock out populations of termites foraging in and around the structure. Foraging termites consume the bait and share it with their nest mates, resulting in a gradual decline in termite numbers. Some baits may even eradicate entire termite colonies. A comprehensive baiting program then seeks to maintain a termite-free condition on the customer’s property through ongoing monitoring and rebaiting as needed.

The baits consist of paper, cardboard, or other “termite-friendly” food, combined with a slow-acting ingredient lethal to termites. The bait-toxicant combo must be slow acting in order to maximize distribution among the termite population, which may contain hundreds of thousands of individuals. Some bait stations are installed below ground out in the yard, while others are placed within the structure in the vicinity of active termite mud tubes. Because paper and cardboard decompose rather rapidly in soil, most below-ground installations initially utilize untreated wood stakes or monitors. Once termites are detected in the monitors, the toxicant-laced paper or cardboard baits are added. On some properties, termite baits may constitute the only form of treatment. In other cases, the baits may be supplemented with a partial or complete barrier application.

The Products

There currently are four bait products on the market. Three are sold by professional pest control firms, while one is marketed directly to homeowners.

Sentricon - The most widely used termite bait is the Sentricon Colony Elimination System. Despite only being marketed for three years, hundreds of thousands of structures have already been baited with Sentricon, including thousands here in Kentucky. The product has been installed on such national treasures as the Statue of Liberty and the White House. While there is still much to learn about Sentricon, dozens of independent research trials have confirmed its effectiveness when properly installed and diligently serviced by an authorized pest control firm. A detailed description of this baiting system can be found in our entomology extension publication ENT-65, Termite Baits: A Guide for Homeowners.

FirstLine- Some pest control firms are using this product as an alternative to Sentricon. Most are using the bait in combination with other forms of treatment, rather than as a “stand alone,” as is often done with Sentricon. Research trials with Firstline have been inconclusive, and it has been difficult to determine what impact the bait, alone, is having on active termite infestations. As with all of the baits, the manufacturer is continuing to modify the product in hopes of optimizing performance (for more on FirstLine, see ENT-65).

Exterra- The newest bait on the market is the Exterra Termite Interception and Baiting System. This product was introduced late last year and is now being installed by a small, but growing, number of pest control firms. As with Sentricon, Exterra is often used as a stand-alone treatment. Both products kill by disrupting the molting process in termites. In terms of appearance, Exterra’s in-ground plastic stations are brown and box-shaped (Sentricon’s are green and cylindrical), and the untreated wood monitors are flat and affixed to each of the four sides of the station. When termites are found feeding on the wood monitors, the bait— consisting of loosely wadded, shredded paper toweling— is stuffed into the center of the station without removing the monitors. This feature is intended to reduce disturbance to termites already present.

It’s too early to know how well Exterra will perform. Preliminary reports from some areas of the country have been encouraging, but there have been few such studies performed in Kentucky.

Spectracide Terminate- This do-it-yourself termite bait is discussed at length in our entomology extension publication Entfact-642: Do-It-Yourself Termite Baits: Do They Work? Late last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and eight state Attorneys General (including Kentucky) filed a complaint in U.S. District Court alleging that the advertising claims about the product are deceptive and unsubstantiated. As part of a recent (3/18/99) settlement agreement, the manufacturer will be permitted to sell Terminate in 1999, but with substantial modifications in their advertising claims. Notably, they will no longer be able to state that use of the product alone is effective in preventing or eliminating termite infestation or damage to homes. The manufacturer can advertise that the product “kills termites,” but they must also state that Terminate is not recommended as sole protection against termites, and for active infestations, homeowners should get a professional inspection. For these and other reasons discussed in Entfact-642, we remain cautious about recommending the product, especially to homeowners with an existing termite problem.

To Bait or Not to Bait...

The most common question I receive from homeowners is: “Which form of treatment — baits or barriers — is more effective, and which would you choose if it were your home?” The question is a difficult one with no “pat” answer. Factors to consider in the decision are discussed at length in extension publication ENT-65, Termite Baits: A Guide for Homeowners. Clients considering a bait treatment are usually relieved to learn that their carpeting won’t have to be pulled back, their floors automatically drilled or their stored items moved. No drilling, no noise, no dust, and no pesticide in the house are other often-cited advantages of termite baits.

Furthermore, some structures have construction features that make it difficult or impossible to treat with conventional methods (e.g., wells, cisterns, drainage systems, sub-slab heating ducts, inaccessible crawl spaces). Buildings with hard-to-treat construction elements are logical candidates for baits, since foraging termites are as likely to encounter bait stations installed around the foundation exterior as beneath the structure. Since baits are non-volatile, non-leachable solids, they can be used in the most sensitive treatment situations.

The biggest complaint, common to all of the current systems, is that baiting is a slow, prolonged process. Several months may pass before the termites find the untreated, below ground monitoring stations and begin to feed on the bait. Consequently, it is not uncommon for the elimination procedure to take more than a full year to complete. Although usually minimal, some degree of termite feeding and damage may occur before the slow-acting bait takes effect.

Baiting programs often are more expensive than conventional treatments. This is because the process requires multiple visits to the structure to monitor for termites, and to add or replenish baits as needed. Homeowners should consider both the initial treatment price and the annual renewal fee in making their purchasing decision. Failure to maintain their annual service agreement is a prescription for disaster with baits, since there is no residual pesticide left in the soil after the termites have been eliminated. Ongoing structural protection depends upon diligent monitoring for new evidence of termites in the future.

So.... if the homeowner (1) has limited income, (2) straightforward construction, (3) is amenable to having their wall-to-wall carpeting pulled back and their basement/slab floor, patio, porch, etc. drilled, and (4) is offered a renewable service agreement (guarantee) by the pest control company, a conventional ‘barrier-type’ treatment may be desirable. If one or more of these criteria cannot be met, the situation may warrant a bait job — but, ultimately, the customer must make the decision.

In closing, termite prevention and control is a very complex topic. Further information is provided in University of Kentucky entomology extension publications, Entfact-604: Termite Control: Answers for the Homeowner, Entfact-605: Protecting Your Home Against Termites, ENT-65: Termite Baits: A Guide for Homeowners, and Entfact-642: Do-It-Yourself Termite Baits: Do They Work?

For further information about the termite bait products mentioned in this publication, contact the manufacturer, your local termite control professional, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (or state or other regulatory agency responsible for termiticide usage in your area), or your county Cooperative Extension office.

CAUTION! Pesticide recommendations in this publication are registered for use in Kentucky, USA ONLY! The use of some products may not be legal in your state or country. Please check with your local county agent or regulatory official before using any pesticide mentioned in this publication.


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Issued: 4/99 Revised: 4/99

Cooperative Extension Service: University of Kentucky, Kentucky State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Kentucky Counties, cooperating