K-State termite researchers deal with an infestation

By The Mercury

It’s not unusual to see bugs crawling around Waters Hall at Kansas State University. In fact, since the entomology department is housed there, termites are a common sight.

But that’s only true in a laboratory setting. So when a colony of the creatures ate its way into those very labs, officials knew how to deal with the problem: They called an exterminator.

There was, however, one unusual problem: how to kill the invaders without also killing all the lab specimens.

“For an entomology department, it’s really tricky because in trying to control the termites, we’d be putting out materials that could potentially kill other insects that we’re rearing and trying to conduct research on, so we have to be very, very careful in how we proceed,” said John Ruberson, professor and head of the department.

The university decided to use the Sentricon System, a trademarked bait system manufactured by Dow AgroSciences. The bait devices were placed about every 10 feet around the outside of Waters Hall.

“What’s great about the Sentricon System is it works with the natural biology of the termites,” said Travis Aggson, who is with American Pest Management in Manhattan. The company donated its services to install the bait systems and will monitor them for two years. Dow AgroSciences donated the supplies.

Ruberson said the university decided to use the bait system because it will not affect the other insects in Waters Hall and is not harmful to students or faculty walking by the bait devices. It is also environmentally friendly.

“We don’t have to drill any holes into the concrete,” Aggson said. “We don’t have to tear any walls apart. We don’t have to inject thousands of gallons of pesticide into the ground. It’s a very effective way of treating for termites that’s good for the environment.”

The bait contains a growth regulator that is specific to termites. They eat the bait then carry it back to their colony and share it with other termites.

“This growth regulator interferes with the termite’s growth hormones,” Ruberson said. “All insects have to molt in order to grow, so if you mess up the ratio of certain hormones in the insect’s body, it molts improperly—then its body can’t react appropriately and it dies.”

Aggson said his firm found about six different colonies around the entomology building, and estimated it will take about three to six months to eliminate them.

“We’re going to eliminate any termites that are in the building now. The stations will monitor for any new activity coming in so they’ll be able to pick up new colonies before they attack the building in the future,” he said.

Termites cause $5 billion worth of damage to homes and businesses in the United States every year, according to the National Pest Management Association. Ruberson said this system will not only reduce their damage, but also become a unique teaching tool for entomology students.

“We hope to develop this into an educational experience where we can engage students in monitoring the traps and setting up the traps, because the pest control industry needs people,” Ruberson said.

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