[Vertebrate Pests] Rodent Bait Station Updates

December 11, 2003

It used to be that many exterior rodenticide bait boxes were similar in function and design. That is, many of the stations were essentially "black boxes with holes" that provided bait containment and feeding stations for foraging rodents along perimeter walls of commercial buildings. But over the past couple of years, there have been some significant innovative inroads into bait station design and technology. In this column I’ll review some of these new technologies.

TECHNICIAN-FRIENDLY. The number of stations technicians service each week in our industry can range from only a few to several hundred. For pest management companies servicing the food-processing industry, a professional may literally service up to 500 (or more) stations every week. If you ever have had to service large numbers of exterior bait stations repeatedly, you quickly learn to appreciate the specific details of their design.

For example, consider the physical workout and daily climatic aspects of bait station work. The blistering hot and humid days of summer on hot asphalt, the brutally cold days in the North, the windy days, the rainy days, the windy, cold and rainy days and so forth. When you are running bait stations on such days, stations presenting a minimum of hassles and "handling time" are preferred (or should I say loved, respected and appreciated). Delays of only seconds per station can add up to a miserable day when you have 75 stations ahead of you and perhaps 75 again the next day and the day after.

REPETITIVE MOTION STRESS. One of the more subtle and perhaps overlooked aspects of bait station work by those that don’t service bait stations on a regular basis are the physical demands of such work. Bending down, screwing, cutting, squeezing/pinching or prying tabs, lifting, brushing, writing, scanning, closing lids, getting up, walking. Then repeat the process — over and over. In other words, servicing bait stations can cause repetitive stress on knees, back, wrists and fingers. As physicians that specialize in repetitive stress injuries will tell you, this type of stress to body joints is often categorized as a "syndrome" because the ailment or disability of a particular joint may not manifest itself until much later (i.e., sometime years).

Opening, closing and "locking" bait stations is one of the most important components to the "hassle factors" associated with bait stations. For stations that utilize various types of screws to secure the lids, the operation of the screws alone can cause delays and hassles. Some aspects of screw-closed lids can be reduced with electric screwdrivers, but over time, screws can become stripped, causing an annoying hassle to get the screws out and the lid open or conversely having the screws actually holding the lid closed.

Thus, bait stations that reduce hassles and repetitive motion stress via reducing the number of the physical motions required to service a station are certainly in the interest of both management and service professionals (as well as their families). The good news is that manufacturers seem to be listening and have become more sensitive to these issues.

In 2003 Syngenta Professional Products launched its Multiplex station that allows for a push key operation to open the station quickly without having to unscrew/re-screw or even handle a screw. Additionally, the Multiplex’s flat lid is designed to remain open and out of the way during servicing saving seconds and hassles during the service routine. Although Syngenta presents other advantages to the Multiplex, these two details alone are no small innovations in time efficiency and repetitive stress reduction when you have several hours of stations to service — perhaps several times — each week.

GRAY IS COOL. Several of the new bait station models are now available in the color gray. Gray has several advantages over black. First, gray stations do not get as hot as black stations (although gray stations will still not completely prevent bait meltdown). Second, dark feces, insect carcasses and some other types of debris are more visible against a gray background and thus are easier to evaluate for activity levels and facilitate thorough removal of this debris. And, wind-blown dirt and dust from every day ambient conditions from a distance are less visible on gray than on black. Finally, gray provides for better camouflaging along typical gray cement foundation walls of commercial buildings, rendering the stations less conspicuous to visitors.

ELEVATED STATIONS. One station, the Maj-ik Box (by National Institute of Pest Management) is entirely different from all others. This station is essentially a box drawer-style station with the entry to the station off the ground. The rodent enters the station through a hole positioned above it in a cantilevered portion of the station, much like climbing into a bunk-bed feeding chamber. As a result of this design, the footing below the station’s entryway remains natural to a foraging rodent. Whether or not this design provides any additional encouragement for rodents to feed compared to conventional designs is thus far unknown. Regardless, this design should reduce the problems associated with some wetness situations.

CAMOUFLAGED STATIONS. Although they are not new, customized bait stations that are camouflaged as decorative rocks are available and have become popular for restaurants, residential baiting and grocery store accounts. Perhaps additional models of camouflaged stations or even additional customization of bait stations will emerge in the future.

TAMPER-RESISTANT STATIONS. Similarly, along the lines of reducing or even eliminating screws and keys as parts and pieces needed for servicing bait stations, Bell Labs this year introduced a completely keyless tamper-resistant mouse bait station. A simple, easy twist of the hand opens the station. There are no keys to turn or screws to twist out; no screws to put down and lose. Moreover, the Keyless station allows for two blocks of bait within the station as well as allowing for three mice to feed from the station at the same time.

STATION DIVERSITY IS "KEY." The days of assuming all bait stations are merely boxes with holes in them that contain bait are gone. Whatever the situation, multi-functional or uni-functional, a bait station is available to fit your needs. In addition to those discussed here, other stations that have been out for many years by other manufacturers also have their own advantages. (JT Eaton’s metal "strongbox" station, Liphatech’s Aegis stations, the vertically positioned Doubl-Trubl station and others.)

CONCLUSION. The payoff in bait station work in both the field and within productivity and competitive sales bids is in the details. Stations should be carefully selected based on keeping repetitive stress to a minimum, as well on the specific operation and clients.

With all the new technology, it may be that the days of having only one bait station model for all wall areas of any commercial facility are over. Perhaps some wall areas will be well protected with the simplest of stations, whereas other walls that are excessively wet or hot or prone to vandalism or foraging ants or raccoons and so forth will require a mixture of models. The new technology…it’s cool.

The author is president of RMC Pest Management Consulting and can be reached at rcorrigan@pctonline.com.