UF Termite Expert Helps Fight Destructive Pest In Chile’s Capital And Surrounding Areas

Chuck Woods (352) 392-1773 x 281

Nan-Yao Su nysu@ufl.edu, (954) 577-6339
Renato Ripa (La Cruz, Chile) rripa@lacruz.inia.cl 56-33-312366
James Smith (Santiago, Chile) jsmith@terminator.cl 56-2-443-5488
Raul Valdez (Santiago, Chile) ambiente@lascones.cl 56-2-224-9765

View Photo
View Photo

View Photo
View Photo

View Photo
View Photo

View Photo
View Photo

SANTIAGO, CHILE—In Santiago and other urban areas near the sprawling capital of Chile, an invasion of subterranean termites is gnawing away on thousands of homes, causing fear and confusion among residents who don’t know how to stop the destruction.

Subterranean termites were not a problem until the pest was first identified in the country in 1986, probably introduced from the United States through the port city of Valparaiso. Since then, the termite has spread over 18,600 square miles in the region around Valparaiso and Santiago, and the problem has gone from bad to worse.

“You can see it in the faces of people who are worried about the destruction of their homes,” says Renato Ripa, an entomologist with the government’s Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias (INIA). “It’s taken about 40 years for the problem to reach this point, and most people don’t know anything about termites or how to control them.”

In a desperate attempt to stop the destruction, people remove damaged wood and throw it out on the street, Ripa said. Others then use the discarded wood to build or repair their homes and fences — not knowing the wood is already infested with subterranean termites.

Popular remedies such as pouring bleach or kerosene on infested wood are ineffective because termite colonies are underground, often hundreds of feet from the infested structure.

About 15,000 homes are severely infested with termites, and the destruction is spreading rapidly, Ripa said.

While the problem affects people from all socio-economic levels in the region, it’s particularly troublesome in poor urban neighborhoods, he said. Extensive use of wood construction, usually in direct contact with the soil, provides easy access for the wood-hungry insects. The termites also attack and kill trees.

Ripa, based at the INIA research station in the town of La Cruz about 60 miles from Santiago, said he did not have a lot of experience with subterranean termites, which prompted him to seek the advice of Nan-Yao Su, a University of Florida termite expert.

Su, a professor of entomology with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is internationally recognized for his expertise in controlling subterranean termites and works with government agencies in many countries. In the United States, he recently helped the National Park Service stop termite infestations at the Statute of Liberty in New York, the French Quarter in New Orleans and the Christensted National Historic Site in St. Croix.

With the help of funds from the Chilean government, Ripa and Su initiated several research projects in Chile’s fifth region, which includes the nation’s second largest city of Valparaiso. Chile is divided into 13 government regions extending more than 2,500 miles from north to south along the Pacific.

Paola Luppichini, an agronomist at the INIA research station in La Cruz, is working with Ripa and Su on the project.

“The goal of our research was to test the four commercial pesticide treatments now on the market and develop recommendations for controlling severe termite problems in the region,” Ripa said.

For their research, Ripa and Su selected two test sites in Valparaiso and two sites in the town of Quillota to compare barrier and bait treatment methods. Barrier treatments include chemicals applied to soil to prevent or repel termites from entering the structure. Bait treatments include chemicals that termites feed upon and carry back to their underground nests, causing the entire underground colony to slowly die.

The barrier treatments are Termidor, manufactured by BASF, and Demon, made by Syngenta Corp. The bait treatments are FirstLine, made by FMC Corp., and Sentricon, made by Dow AgroSciences.

In the early 1990s, Su helped develop the Sentricon Termite Colony Elimination System in his research program at UF’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. At the time, industry experts called Su’s system the biggest advance in pest control in more than 50 years.

Su’s bait system has a chemical called hexaflumuron, a growth regulator that prevents termites from molting, thereby reducing the ability of the worker population to sustain the colony. The chemical has a low toxicity to humans and the environment. Less than one gram kills an entire colony containing millions of termites.

“In Chile, after two years of analyzing results from our field tests comparing the barrier and bait systems, we found that the barrier treatments do help protect homes and other structures from subterranean termites, but these treatments do not provide complete protection,” Ripa said. “Termites are clever — they still find ways to go around barrier treatments to feed on wood in the structure. It looks like the termites are just avoiding the repellants.”

Ripa said tests on one of the two baiting systems did not show effective control. “We saw little or no feeding activity by subterranean termites on the FirstLine bait, and the damage was the same as the untreated areas,” he said. “However, the Sentricon baiting system provided total control of the termites at all four test sites in about one year.”

Su said the long-term solution to controlling and eradicating subterranean termites in the region is to kill the underground colonies, and Sentricon is the only way to achieve this kind of result. “Otherwise, you’re just chasing termites around with barrier or repellant chemicals,” he said.

Ripa said the next step is to make their research data available to government agencies, pest control operators and consumers.

“Based on our test results, we are recommending the Sentricon system to eliminate underground termite colonies and chemical barriers to protect structures. We are seeking additional government funds to continue developing termite controls in the region,” he said. “We also want to work with government agencies to develop new building codes to prevent future damage.”

Santiago Siege

In Santiago, the nation’s largest city with more than 5 million residents, Su is working with James Smith, an entomologist and commercial pest control operator, to battle the termite problem that now affects all areas of the city. When subterranean termites started causing widespread damage seven years ago, Smith and Su started developing solutions for area- wide management of the problem.

Smith, who owns Terminator Systems in Santiago, said termite control may not be a high governmental priority in the poorer areas of the city where people worry about feeding and caring for their families. The problem is aggravated by the fact that almost all low-income housing is built with wood in the ground, creating a haven for subterranean termites.

“Some people just give up and think they’re going to have to live with the destructive pest, but we are saying, ‘no, that’s not true,’” Smith said.

“So the first thing we need to do is educate people and some 30 municipal governments in the Santiago area about the growing threat,” Smith said. “Then we need to show them effective control measures that local governments will support.”

To demonstrate how subterranean termites can be stopped with the Sentricon system, Smith and Su initiated test projects in two relatively poor areas of the city — the municipalities of Cerro Navia and Las Condes. Smith’s company installed the underground baiting stations and monitored termite activity at the test sites, comparing results with adjacent neighborhoods that were not treated.

In Cerro Navia, the demonstration project includes 108 homesites, with half of the $100,000 cost being paid by the Chilean government and half being covered by Smith’s firm. In Las Condes, which includes two different sites with 30 homes each, the municipal government is paying for 96 percent of the cost and homeowners are paying for 4 percent.

“When the Cerro Navia project started, 75 percent of the homes in the six- block test site had severe termite problems, and we were able to bring that down to just 3 percent in a year and a half — achieving 95 percent control of the pest,” Smith said.

“In Las Condes, municipal inspectors said the demonstration site was ‘eaten up’ by subterranean termites,” he said. “We installed the baiting system in September 2002 and there were no termites — zero — by June 2003.”

Raul Valdez, an urban pest management specialist for the municipality of Las Condes in Santiago, said the Sentricon system solved their termite problem, but he expressed concern that the issue is not being addressed by various government agencies on a regional level.

“The nice thing about our project in Las Condes is that it brings all people together to solve a problem,” Valdez said. “The public sector is working with private business and residents in the area to show a need and respond to it in an effective way.”

Su said the long-term cost of not controlling the pest in Chile will far outweigh the cost of taking corrective measures now.

“When you consider a system such as Sentricon, which can eliminate the subterranean termite problem in Chile, you also need to remember that the cost of controlling the pest is far less than the cost of repairing or replacing damaged homes, businesses and other structures later on,” Su said.

“We have demonstrated that there is an effective way to stop this invasive pest in Chile, and we hope the government and other community leaders will find creative ways of bringing this pest control technology to the people,” he said.



Avatar photo
Posted: February 7, 2005

Category: UF/IFAS

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories