UF Termite Expert Says New Electronic Bug Detects Pest
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It’s one bug against another. A University of Florida termite expert says tests on a new electronic bug are more than 98 percent accurate in detecting subterranean termites chewing on wood near homes.
“It’s almost like asking E.T. to phone home,” said Nan-Yao Su, professor of entomology with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “When termites start feeding on wood in bait stations in the ground around homes or other structures, their feeding activity can now be recorded on a microchip.
“When pest-control operators visit the site, the new electronic snooping system transmits the information directly to them, providing a quick and accurate report on termites before they have a chance to invade buildings,” he said.
The electronic sensor is a major enhancement on the termite monitoring and baiting system Su developed more than seven years ago. At the time, the system was described as the biggest improvement in termite pest control in more than 50 years.
He said the bait system makes it possible to detect and control subterranean termites, including the highly destructive Formosan termite now spreading throughout Florida and the Southeast. Nationwide, annual damage estimates for termites range as high as $3 billion.
“By adding electronic sensing protection, we have moved to the next level – eliminating the need for pest-control operators to perform visual inspections for termites at each individual bait station placed in the ground around structures,” Su said. “Pest-control operators can now get rapid, reliable detection of termites by simply recording the data at the site, saving time and money.”
The electronic monitoring devices, placed in the ground around homes and other structures, each contain pieces of wood with a special circuit board. When termites begin feeding on the wood and break the circuit, the electronic sensor warns pest-control operators. The wood is then replaced with a chemical bait that slowly kills off the entire underground colony. Once the colony has been eliminated, the system remains in place to detect any future termite activity.
In the future, he said, a home could be monitored for termite activity by using other means of communication such as a telephone line or the Internet rather than the pest-control personnel having to visit the site of the traps.
Su, based at UF’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, said the key to controlling subterranean termites is getting the bait down into their underground colonies. Unless the colony is destroyed, the pest will continue building tunnels and looking for wooden food sources.
“Termites are very picky about what they will eat and bring back to their underground colonies,” he said. “They will literally seal off their nest from anything they don’t like.”
After testing many different chemicals in the early 1990s, Su found they will feed on hexaflumuron, a chemical that makes them unable to molt or reproduce. When they consume the chemical and bring it back to their colony, it eventually kills the entire nest.
The termite control system is patented by UF and licensed exclusively to Dow AgroSciences LLC in Indianapolis. It is marketed to consumers as the Sentricon® Termite Colony Elimination System.
Jane MacMillan, a product manager for the Dow AgroSciences, said the company is in the early stages of introducing electronic sensing protection under the trademark of Sentricon System with ESP.
“The technology provides consumers all the benefits of the current system, plus unique electronic monitoring features,” MacMillan said. “The new features improve the consistency and accuracy of termite detection for successful colony elimination.”