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UF study shows why termite bait works and how scientists can improve it

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — About 25 years ago, University of Florida scientist Nan-Yao Su set out to develop a bait to kill termites. He came up with Sentricon™ and found it worked better than any other termite-killing method to date. Now, scientists know more about why the bait works so efficiently and how to improve it to kill termite colonies faster.

Su, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences distinguished entomology professor, along with Garima Kakkar — a former UF/IFAS doctoral student and now an Extension faculty member with UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie County — say the new findings should help them develop a faster-working version of Sentricon™.

Termites leave their central nest in search of food, and they return home when they’re ready to shed skin. If their food contains Sentricon™ baits, they will eventually die from chitin-synthesis inhibitors (CSIs) in the bait. Until now, scientists didn’t understand why only CSIs would kill termite colonies.

A new study published by Kakkar, Su and others in the journal Scientific Reports shows why CSI baits are so effective. Once inside the central nest, the termites that have fed on a CSI bait die near the king and queen termites, the study shows.

Surrounded by corpses, the king and queen move to cleaner parts of the nest, only to be surrounded by termites killed by CSI, and the cycle repeats itself until the entire colony collapses, the study showed.

This finding explains the why only CSI baits are capable of eliminating termite colonies, Su and Kakkar said.

“The information paves the way to develop a bait with a shorter colony-elimination time,” said Su, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center.  “One shortcoming of CSI baits is that it takes months to eliminate a colony, and some homeowners fear that termites may continue to damage their house during that period.”

“With our understanding that termites have to return to the central nest to molt, the use of molt-accelerating compounds may reduce colony elimination time without causing secondary bait aversion,” Su said.

When exposed to hormones called ecdysteroids, termites begin to shed in 10 days, much faster the natural cycle of 45 days.

“If successfully developed, ecdysteroid baits will reduce colony elimination time by more than a month, making it more plausible for the termite control industry and homeowners to embrace the bait technology that has less environmental impact than traditional soil insecticide technique by a factor of 19,200,” Su said.

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

 

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