Termites: Back to the Basics

Columns - Pest Perspectives

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April 4, 2021

Vince Lombardi, famous coach of the Green Bay Packers and who the National Football League’s championship trophy is named after, once took a team of professional football players, stood in front of them, held up a football and said, “This is a football.” Vince (yes, let me pretend that we are on a first-name basis) understood that his team was struggling a little bit. They needed to go back to the basics and start from a clean slate. Then, and only then, could they all be on the same page. They would all have the same foundation to build their season upon.

Annual termite refreshers are just the same. Likely you have not seen termites for several months. You may have even had to suspend treatments due to cold, snow or ice. Rigs may have been winterized and now it is time to get the juice flowing again.

Let me build the foundation for your subterranean termite season.

DISTRIBUTION. Subterranean termites are the most widely distributed type of termite in the United States. They inhabit every state except Alaska, and they account for the most structural damage annually. It is critical to understand that there are many different species within the subterranean group. For example, eastern, western, Formosan and Asian varieties. Each can be slightly different in their habits and it is important to be familiar with the different species in your coverage area. This will ultimately impact your inspections and treatments as you battle this tiny, but formidable, foe.

INSPECTIONS. One of the most important parts of a termite treatment is the inspection and documentation of findings. You should never hurry this step…well, it is best to not hurry any step. But this one can get you in the most trouble. Once you provide a treatment to a customer’s home or business you have some skin in the game. You have liability. The customer is trusting that you found any evidence of activity and that you treated it completely. Spend some extra time on the inspection. If there is activity, learn as much as you can from it. How are they accessing the structure? Which way are they traveling? Begin to formulate how you plan to remedy the problem.

Termite treatments are not a one size fits all. They should not be approached that way. Each treatment may include the required elements of a treatment in your respective state or country, but that does not mean that the minimum is all you need to do. If it were your home, how would you treat it?

Lastly, document your findings. Draw an excellent graph. Note all your findings. Note the conditions conducive to current and future activity. Take moisture readings. Paint a complete picture of what is happening at that home at the time of the treatment. Good documentation is always a bonus if there is need to return to the property or in the event that things go south for some reason. Cover yourself.

Once you have determined what is happening at the home, you have some choices for how you want to best treat the property. The two most common treatments for subterranean termites are baits and liquids. They have different methodologies and sometimes different times you may want to deploy them.

BAITS. Baits are designed to be placed in the environment and found by foraging termites as the look for food. This is an offensive strategy to reduce the termite population in a given area. Decreasing the population reduces the likelihood that the termites will find the structure. The bait matrix is usually some form of refined cellulose either blended with a toxicant or not. If not, the device is placed out for monitoring and replaced with a bait when discovered by termites. Baits are attractive to some people as they are less disruptive to the landscape and the treatment can be removed if necessary.

LIQUIDS. The use of liquid treatment zones for termites dates to some of the earliest termite treatments. Technology has advanced into non-repellent liquids from original treatments of repellents such as coal tar, oils and kerosene. New chemistries are better for the environment and better at controlling termites than their predecessors. I am not going to imply that chlordane did not work, but homes treated with it still had retreats if the application was done incorrectly.

Liquid termiticides are a defensive play. There are two basic types, repellents that seek to keep termites away from a structure, and non-repellents that termites cannot detect. Foraging termite movement through the treated zone transfers toxicant throughout the nest as they rub against each other and groom. Some customers prefer this method of treatment as it provides that continuous zone of protection around their property.

FINAL DECISION. Whatever method you or a customer chooses, it should be the best solution for the specific property. Yes, customer choice is part of the game. Some customers may choose their treatment type. They should have the final say as it is their home or business. However, do not forget that you are the expert. Provide your guidance on what you found and how you think it would be best to solve their problem and protect their investment. Customers may not be fully up to speed on conditions surrounding their home that may impact the ability to use a particular method. Be the expert that you have trained to be.

Once they have selected what they want to do, take your time, and do the best job you can do. Remember, you now have skin in the game...

The author is senior technical services manager at Rollins in Atlanta.