A Perfect Termite Detector

Termite Interceptors

How the Search for a Perfect Termite Detector...

...produced a Practical Termite Interceptor, and led to the development of a combination Termite Interceptor, Annunciator, & Inoculator.


Summary: A perfect termite detector attracts all the termites in a termite colony.  It doesn't require gourmet cellulose, but it must protect the cellulose it has from contaminants that can make it unpalatable.  It must keep false alarms to a minimum, and promotes facile inspections in parallel with other pest management work without adding to service times. In addition, a perfect termite detector continuously feeds thousands of termites at a time, annunciates their presence in clear, unambiguous, and obvious ways, and provides a means for inoculating the termite colony with agents that lead to the colony's destruction.  These latter features turn a perfect termite detector into a practical termite interceptor, annunciator, and inoculator.  If that device inoculates with biological termiticides instead of toxic chemicals, it meets IRIM i3 objectives.  Scroll down to read full text of of article.  Next...   Home...


When I first began designing termite detectors, I realized they should do at least two things: (1) detect every termite in the area, and (2) announce that discovery clearly and effortlessly. Those two criteria have driven my work--in termite detection, monitoring, baiting, and control--ever since. 

That work ultimately produced what I first called the 1-LOOK Termite Detector.  But I soon learned that termite detection---without a means of treating the termites once they are detected---had very little value. So the design of my detection apparatus expanded to include treatment faculties.  The result, arrived at after years of research and development, was the EntomoBiotic Termite Interceptor, Annunciator, & Inoculator (TIAI).

Please note that this device, though successfully tested throughout Texas, has not been placed into commercial production. We have no plans to market the device. The information provided here is for educational purposes only.

Detection and Attraction...

A termite detector should attract every termite that happens by. The termite interceptor I developed achieved that goal by using high-quality cellulose bait.

Termites forage relentlessly for new sources of food. Scientists have learned that the kinds of food sources that termites like contain as much pure cellulose as possible, and only enough inedible material like lignin necessary to provide firmness to the cellulose.  Woods like maple, pine, poplar, fir, and aspen are among the best termite foods around.  The choice of wood to use in a termite interceptor is not as easy as picking one of these species, however.

Termite biologists have researched termite wood preferences extensively.  Evidently, upscale eating habits occur, even among these creatures.  Here's what was learned: given a choice, under laboratory conditions, termites favored woods like sugar maple and aspen.  Other woods, when infested with certain kinds of fungi, are very attractive, too.  One gathered, from those discoveries, that termites are quite finicky eaters.

Yet, sugar maple--one of the hardest woods around--is difficult to cut (it dulls sharp saw blades in nothing flat), and the soft, almost amorphous cellular structure of aspen attracts mold and mildew.  Such qualities ruled those woods out for use in practical, long-lasting devices intended for variable climates.  Fortunately, scientists have explored other issues dealing with termite attraction and tenacity.  Many factors are involved, but wood species is not at the top of the list.

Even though termites prefer sugar maple and aspen in large quantities, they abandon both if either is in short supply or is contaminated by antagonistic or repellant forms of microorganisms, like fungi or composting bacteria.  By comparison, termites prize less-attractive woods in good supply and not contaminated. Woods that are easiest to shape and that can be exposed to moist environments without becoming overrun with repellent wood-rot organisms make the best termite interceptors.  If the object is to keep termites feeding in the interceptor for long periods of time, easily shaped and obtained pine or fir are excellent choices. 

Lots of Room...

Food quality must also be combined with lots of room, or some of the termites who happen by will be forced to wait for a place to eat.  Termites are impatient; they don't wait long before heading for the next food source in the circuit. A perfect termite interceptor won't let that happen.

Corrugated cardboard provides a near-perfect medium for use in a termite detector, for two reasons.  First, it contains purified cellulose that is much easier to chew than ordinary wood.  That allows a termite to get its fill, exit, and make room for other termites right away.  Second, each corrugation provides an abundance of feeding spots immediately, without requiring new excavations.  Obviously, there has to be enough cardboard to go around, so a tiny case that holds only a few grams of cardboard won't suffice. 

In the 1990's one of the most vexing observations made with the small termite detectors and bait stations being used at the time was that termites would abandon them at the slightest provocation. Termite biologists began to refer to the fickle nature of termite colonies, after numerous instances were recorded where termites disappeared for long periods after an active bait station was physically disturbed.  This happens less often in nature.  Once termites become habituated to a large source of cellulose in the soil it is almost impossible to make them abandon it using mechanical agitation alone.  The volume and quality (I categorize ease of consumption as a quality) of cellulose involved make the difference.  Small volumes of even high-quality cellulose are quickly abandoned when disturbed, but large volumes of medium or low quality cellulose can be disturbed frequently without getting the termites to leave. 

The termite interceptor I developed is large enough to accommodate lots of termites at a time.  To achieve immediate attraction of large numbers of termite workers, refined and purified cellulose pulp, formed into corrugated cardboard, provides an excellent choice.  Aligning the cardboard inside a termite interceptor in a certain way, and fixing and shaping its mass so that moisture wicks and evaporates quickly, lessens the risk of rot, even if the device is exposed to short periods of high moisture on a regular basis.  I learned, by experience, that design is critical, but once the essential design was worked out and production issues were properly handled, the cost of the finished product could be kept within reason.

By designing a termite interceptor that is partitioned into sections containing corrugated cardboard and pine or fir blocks in combination, it became possible to produce a device that is at least as attractive to termites as anything else nearby, including the wood inside homes or businesses.  The proof, of course, comes on placing such a termite interceptor where termites are tunneling up a foundation wall.  Termites consistently abandon their foundation tunnels and concentrate on eating in a well-stocked termite interceptor, proving that its design meets the criteria I looked for.

If every termite that shows up at such a termite Interceptor gets fed quickly with good food, it won't be long before a large fraction of the termite colony is eating at all or most of the termite interceptors placed around a home or business.  The food doesn't have to be gourmet quality; just plain good food will do as long as there's plenty of it---like Mom's Diner, on Route 66, that's always crowded with customers. 

Termites are good at figuring out how long a source of food will last.  They carefully explore every food source they find to learn the extent of its food reserve, probably as a means of deciding whether or not to visit that place again on the next trip.  Small food sources, even of the best quality, don't generate a lot of excitement.  Large sources of high quality food, however, keep them coming back for more.

Cryptic vs. Open Termite Detectors

Whom do you tell that termites have arrived at a termite detector? When I first started researching termite detectors the answer seemed clear:  tell everybody.  A termite detector should make it obvious to anybody who might want to know that termites have arrived. Users should be able to inspect a termite detector from a standing position, at a distance, without removing a cap, opening it up, or peering inside.

Yet, to see if termites are in most termite detectors now on the market, it is necessary to remove a cap--usually with a special key--and examine the detector's interior.  That makes inspections difficult and time-consuming, even if extension accessories are provided to allow cap removal while the inspector is standing up. These detectors are, in general, small devices containing either small amounts of cellulose, or slightly larger amounts in compact form. Both operate under the theory that it is better to put small amounts of bait in lots of places rather than lots of bait in a few places, As a result, it isn't unusual for a single home to have thirty or forty of these hard-to-inspect devices around them.

How often will a professional pest management specialist be willing to take the thirty minutes to two hours required to inspect such devices?  Not very often, according to the numerous reports of  failures, by professionals whose activities were monitored, to regularly inspect installed termite detectors.  Inspectors who are tired, distracted, or behind schedule will often skip or gloss over the cryptic termite detectors at a particular site simply because it takes too much time, energy, and effort to do the job right. The technician, and the technician's company, usually get blamed for such derelictions, but---in my opinion---the fault lies with designs that combine high levels of drudgery with low levels of job performance. Better designs entice technicians to carry out full inspections by eliminating drudgery and spiking job performance to the highest levels possible.

That's why the word "Annunciator" describes how my device informs a user that termites are inside. Back in the 1960's, as a USAF analyst assigned to Strategic Air Command, my unit was on constant alert status. Our bombers were ready to spring into action, once our air crews received a signal over the alert site's claxon annunciators. Later, at Rome Air Development Center, I directed a large test site that experimented with intrusion detection devices. Each device was connected to its own annunciator, to inform a human observer as soon as it detected an intrusion. One of the most important lessons I learned there was that efficient detection is useless if annunciation is deficient.

It takes considerable labor and time to inspect any kind of cryptic termite detector, regardless of any kind of accessory device provided to supposedly cut labor or time.  The consequences of this problem are enormous. That's why I designed the EntomoBiotic Termite Interceptor, Annunciator, & Inoculator (TIAI) so that it could be inspected instantly, using nothing but the inspector's eyes, while the inspector passes nearby.

With that out of the way, I then concentrated on making the same device work with entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN) and other non-toxic and least-toxic biological agents. 



Links to Important patents and articles related to Termite Detectors:

Barbara Thorne, University of Maryland, website: http://www.lfsc-courses.umd.edu/cv/?department=entm_cv&name=bthorne  Dr. Thorne, in collaboration with Dr. James Traniello, designed the first cartridge-type termite detector and bait station.  Her website links to a number of scientific articles on termite biology. 

Timothy Myles, University of Toronto, patent entitled "Method, Apparatus and Composition for Treating Insects." U.S. Patent No. 5,609,879: http://www.utoronto.ca/forest/termite/ScheduleOCR Output/USPat1.pdf Note that this patent, which describes a method and apparatus for dealing with subterranean termites, broke new ground on several fronts and departed significantly from the methodology taught by Dr. Thorne in her patented termite detection cartridge and bait station.

Please send suggested additions to the above list, or corrections to any of the captions provided, to jerry.cates@entomobiotics.com.