The bait box technique for termite control


<Note: This is a very old page. Updated comments have been added and look like this.> This note briefly introduces simple methods to destroy subterranean termite colonies. These approaches differ from the old spray & pray mindset in that, because only a small amount of toxin is used, there is no chemical residue to protect against other termites that may in time, move in and resume the attack. Termite baiting should only be used as part of an integrated pest management strategy (IPM), where destruction of the termite colony will be followed by hazard reduction and regular inspection.

<Note: Arsenic trioxide, the toxin that was most commonly used with the original bait boxes, is a dangerous poison which hopefully will not be available in your country. Consult your local regulator for alternatives. At present, the most widely used successful dust toxicant is one containing fipronil. Mostly only licensed pest managers can legally use it.>

Empty termite bait box Bait boxes can be used inside, under or around buildings. The purpose of the bait box is to rapidly establish a big feeding group of termites. When the termites discover the box, they quickly recruit large numbers to the new food source. These termites may be dosed with a slow-acting poison. Then the termites themselves become the toxin-delivery system, carrying poison back to all members of the colony. Termites share food, feed their young, regularly groom one another and often, cannibalise their dead. A poison that takes a day or more to kill is best as the delay means it can be shared throughout the colony before any termite is killed. However, a toxin that takes several weeks to have an effect is not nearly as efficient unless continued feeding can be guaranteed.

Construction of a bait box is simple. There are few critical dimensions or materials. Pest controllers will have their own preferences depending upon local species and conditions. Boxes are typically about 500 mm long by 300 mm wide by 200 mm high and can for example, be constructed of timber (untreated!), polystyrene (Broccoli or fish boxes from your supermarket), plastic pipe or polyethylene (worm farm boxes), even an old suitcase can do the job. (Overall, polystyrene is the most popular and cardboard the least satisfactory.) The box must seal tightly enough to prevent entry by ants (which may attack the termites) and to prevent drying of the contents, but still have adequate holes in the base to permit termite entry. Some people prefer to use sections of PVC drainpipe. A window in the top or end, makes inspection easier. Cut a hole about 50 to 75 mm across and cover it with clear plastic. Put a sheet of white paper up against the window inside the box. Blotting or tissue paper is fine. You will be able to quickly see whether the box has worked as the termite will both eat and stain the paper. This means you don't have to disturb the termites until you are sure there are enough to poison.

Termite bait box with termite food - explodedFood for termites is cellulose--in just about any form. Some of their favourite foods are paper and cork. The bait in the bait box should be shaped and placed so that the maximum number of termites can be quickly removed with the minimum of disturbance. Alternating layers of corrugated cardboard and thin strips of wood are often successful. Corrugated cardboard offers ready-made tunnels that are similar in size to those which the termites would make for themselves, but you can use newspaper, wood veneer or even old fence palings if you can't get cardboard. (Don't use manufactured woods as these often contain repellent chemicals and pesticides). The termites will move rapidly through this material and the wood strips provide just enough regular food to keep them coming back. Be sure that the cardboard has not been exposed to anyCorrugated cardboard repellent chemicals. It is best to use single-sided corrugated cardboard (as sold in rolls for packaging) as this gives the termites little room to hide and they can be easily removed by tapping the sheets over a large tray (like a cat litter tray).

Placing your boxes is a choice to be made once termites have been found.
<Note: A big advantage of this technique is that the box is used after termites have been found. This can be much better than banging expensive baits in a grid around the house.>
A good guide is to get as near as possible to undisturbed termite workings, either on soil or heavily damaged timber. A layer of cardboard placed under the box may increase the chances of success. Thoroughly moisten the bait material in the box, and the area under and around the box. Termites need water and will explore and feed more rapidly if they don't have to bring their own. The box should be buried with soil to about half its depth to provide a good seal. Cover the whole box with a sheet of plastic (polyethylene is good), and seal the edges. This ensures that it will remain moist and will not change temperature too quickly. If placing boxes outside, shade them from direct sunlight.  If placing inside, seal the box to the infested surfaces with a bead of painter's acrylic gap sealant.

Partly buried termite bait box Inspect your boxes gingerly about a week after installation (sooner in warm weather or tropical areas) but don't be discouraged if nothing is seen for 3 - 4 weeks. If the paper in the window is spotted or eaten, there are probably sufficient termites present for poisoning. If you leave the box too long, the termites will consume all the food and then abandon it. Then you have to start again.

Poisoning the termites is best left up to your pest controller. Traditionally, arsenic trioxide dust has been used for termite poisoning in Australia, but this compound is quite toxic to humans and has been banned in many other countries. Do not consider applying the poison yourself, arsenic must only be applied by a skilled and licensed operator. Their are several promising replacements for arsenic.

Preparing the termites for poisoning is a job for the pest controller who will remove most of the material from the box and gently tap the termites from it into a large tray. This sorting should be done quickly to prevent stressing the termites. The cleaned termites are then put into a jar or plastic bag and very gently rolled in the toxic dust. You will note that the pest controller uses gloves, eye protection and a respirator for this step, treating the arsenic with great respect. Once coated, the termites are returned to the bait box and allowed to return home via their galleries (tunnels). Sometimes a pest controller will put some clean termites in behind the poisoned ones to help them find their way home. A variation is the Trojan Termite Technique; here the pest controller brings termites from another colony, coats them in the toxin and sends them into the box. These termites may be either accepted or rejected. If rejected, there will be fighting. Either way, the toxin is delivered well into the termite colony.

Postscript: Worldwide, many companies are looking at baiting systems, mostly using chitin synthesis inhibitors, not unlike those commonly used in ant and cockroach baits, however termites take much longer to respond to the chemicals than most other pest insects, so control takes months rather than weeks. Main contenders are Exterra, Dow's Sentricon, Whitmire's Advance and FMC's FirstLine, however none of these systems is as cheap and rarely as speedy as the bait box technique. Lots of people have got on the bandwagon, selling various forms of monitoring baits. Many are variations of my 1992 hollow stake method. On the other hand, there appears to be some trouble with another bait system, widely sold over-the-counter. Liquid non-repellent poisons also show promise.  Experimentalists tell me that very low doses of Bayer's Premise (imidacloprid) can be effective if the colony is very close to the bait.  Similarly, BASF's Termidor (fipronil) can apparently be applied at an even lower rate to just about any box.  Unfortunately neither chemical is presently registered for these applications, so such use is probably illegal.  Don't try this at home!. The amazing Susan Jones of Ohio State University has a very nice summary piece on bait options.

Developed by CSIRO Division of Forestry and Forest Products' Dr John French, (retired), the bait box technique for termite control, rapidly gained acceptance in Australia and through this page has becoming widely known across the world. After some initial TV publicity in Australia, pest controllers quickly began reporting it as the homeowner's preferred option when termite damage is found due to the small volumes of toxins used and the overall lower cost. Nowadays, the marketing efforts of more expensive proprietary approaches such as Sentricon and Exterra has given them the bulk of the market. Not every pest controller who can wave a spray wand has the knowledge or ability to use a bait box. Select your service carefully to avoid disappointment.

This note was prepared by Dr Don Ewart <homepage> then the Research and Development Manager of Granitgard Pty Ltd, as a public service and the first version was published in 1995 on the CSIRO Forest Products Laboratory web server. People wanting to chase history (for example to refute false patent claims) can see ten years' history of this page at the Wayback Machine

go left Back to Dr Don's Termite Pages Copyright © Don Ewart 1995-2009