Termite control can be very tricky. There is nuance that many other pest management methods just don’t have. I guess the evidence of that is in termite labels. Typical pest management products have fairly simple labels that may cover dilutions and a few directions — to not spray flowering plants, for example. A termite label looks like a miniature copy of “War and Peace” or the complete screenplay of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Not only do termite products typically have multiple dilutions, but each application type is described in detail: drilling intervals, treatment depths, trench here, rod there, etc. It can be unnerving to somebody just looking to do a job correctly. Baits tend to have simpler labels, but they offer some other challenges for proper placement and maximum effectiveness.

BAITS. Baits are one of the most interesting developments in termite management in the last 50 years, if not longer. The premise of baiting is that natural foraging behavior will cause termites to find the stations, start feeding, establish the station as a feeding site with abundant delicious food, tell their buddies about it and then have them throw a huge bait party with all their relatives. In doing so, they pass the active ingredient, typically a growth inhibitor, throughout the colony, thus saving the day. Just go ahead and put a superhero cape on that station; it deserves it.

By using their normal foraging behavior against the termite colony, you effectively reduce the overall termite pressure in a given area. Remember, this is not a barrier. That’s not the goal here. Population reduction is the name of the game.

One gripe I hear is that with stations spaced so many feet apart, there is nothing stopping termites from walking between them. This is absolutely true, but termites don’t naturally forage in a straight line. Think about the mud tubes you have seen. They branch and split. They turn and weave. This somewhat random behavior increases the likelihood they find the stations. Remember, they are blind! Try closing your eyes and walking in a straight line for about 50 feet. It’s not gonna happen.

LIQUIDS. Liquids are a completely different treatment methodology. Liquids are designed to create a barrier or treated zone around a structure. They aren’t all barriers. Repellent products — for example, bifenthrin — create a barrier that repels termites. Non-repellent products, like fipronil, make a treated zone. They aren’t repelling the termites, but stealthily lying in wait, there to get picked up on the termite’s body as it passes through. These products spread throughout the group via grooming, again using termites’ biology against them, and whoever participates dies. Since they do a lot of rubbing together, there are mass casualties.

Putting this treatment zone around a structure you want protected has been a primary treatment method for more than 100 years. If done correctly, it can be very effective, especially with the compounds we have available to us today. Let’s not talk about the ’90s.

Baits and liquids can be used together to fight a termite infestation.
Johnny N. Dell, Bugwood.org

BOTH. Some make the case that liquids and baits can’t or shouldn’t be used together. I disagree. I call it the ultimate protection. Consider this as a football metaphor: Baits are the offense, and liquids are the defense. If I surround the structure with baits placed appropriately, and even some in additional conducive areas (like the label says), then I have asserted an offense to attack a colony. Should they evade my offensive move, then they reach my defense, the liquid treatment zone properly applied to the perimeter.

This combination could seem like overkill, and it may be, but some customers might like the idea of having both a strong offense and a great defense. They say defense wins championships, but in this case, it may not be bad to score a couple of kill points along the way.

I really don’t believe that this combination treatment is for everyone. What I do believe is that both baits and liquid treatments have merit. They both have their place, and sometimes that place is hand in hand.

FINAL THOUGHTS. Every structure you walk up to, you should consider the construction, landscape, conditions conducive, obstructions or other challenges and then decide what tool (or tools) in your toolbox you will choose to deploy. Termite control isn’t one-size-fits-all, and treatment programs should be based on what is best for the customer and for your company’s liability.

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