Having studied termites for the past 11 years, Brian Forschler is constantly making new discoveries about them. His most recent research shows how deceptive termite control can be.
Forschler, an entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is studying the use of control populations. One group of termites remains untouched throughout the research project.
"If you look at one of our control groups and use the criteria the industry uses to claim success, we can successfully control termites by doing nothing," he said.
How can that be?
"They see termites. They put out a bait," he said. "And if the termites aren't there two to three months later, they claim they've eliminated them."
Forschler's research shows that not all termites in home lawns are eliminated when baits are used.
"Sure, the baits will kill termites if they're placed where termites are," he said. "But we've found that termites move around a lot naturally. If you do nothing, they'll move and come back."
Industry Uses Zero-Tolerance Level
On farms, entomologists monitor row crops for pests, Forschler said. And when the population count gets to a certain level, they make control decisions. This method isn't used when controlling urban pests.
"The pest control industry sticks baits in the ground and records the presence or absence of termites," he said. "They have a zero tolerance level when it comes to termites. They're treating wherever they find termites."
Forschler says killing termites at the site of the termite bait doesn't control termites that may be found just a few feet away or termites that may arrive later.
"There's no doubt the baits kill termites. But do they impact the termites in your yard that aren't in your house?" he said.
"I can find termites in every yard in Georgia because I know where to look," he said. "But what is the value of killing these yard termites? Does this make a difference as to whether your house is going to be infested?"
Forschler is working to answer these and many more questions centered around controlling termites.
Termite Control is an On-going Process
"People think you can control termites by calling someone to come out, treat your house and go away," he said. "Termite control is an ongoing process. Not an event. The mind-set has to change."
Termite control should be centered around a home inspection, he said.
"The pest control operator should come out, look really hard -- using all of his experience and tools -- and find all the areas of the house that are vulnerable to termites," he said.
"Then when the termites show up," he said, "different treatments should be used for the conditions present. It's just like a doctor prescribing medicine. The same medicine doesn't work in every case."
Forschler and other UGA CAES entomologists share their research findings with the pest control industry through training programs at the Georgia Household and Structural Pest Control Training Center in Griffin, Ga.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)