Monday, July 13, 2009

Inspector Marlowe

In the United States there are four groups of termites of concern: subterranean (including the Formosan termite), drywood, dampwood and powderpost. Subterranean termites and drywood termites are the two general types. Subterranean termites "nest" in the soil and from there they can attack structures by building shelter tubes from the soil to the wood in structures. Combined termites cause $1.5 billion in damage annually in the United States.

The most popular professionally applied conventional chemical treatments on the market are Premise (imidacloprid), Termidor (finpronil), and Phantom (chlorfenzpyr) range from slightly toxic to very toxic and vary in their solubility and affinity for soil. They are less environmentally persistent and more rapidly biodegradable, than previous generations of chemicals they work by acting as insect endocrine disruptors. They breakdown faster and do not last as long, but are still of concern and the EPA is taking a renewed look at endocrine disruptors that may impact other species and imidacloprid the active ingredient in Premise is on the final list. Ridding an infested house of termites or preventing termite infestation using the lest toxic method requires an integrated pest management approach that includes a series of methods for preventing or managing pest populations based on an ecological understanding of the problem. The US EPA has developed their Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program (PESP) to encourage these methods.

The treatment options are bating with spot treatment and traditional chemical barriers. Termite baits use small amounts of insecticide to knock out populations of termites foraging in and around the structure. Some baits may even eradicate entire termite colonies. Termite baits consist of paper, cardboard, or other termite food, combined with a slow-acting substance lethal to termites. When needed, my baits will be laced with Termidor. Regardless of which bait is used, the process is lengthy and four or five times as expensive as chemical treatment, but uses less than 1% of the chemicals used in traditional treatment. Baits offer termites an easily accessed location to feed on wooden stakes, cardboard, or some other cellulose-based material. The toxicant-laced bait can either be installed initially, or substituted after termites have been detected in an untreated monitoring device. The more baits installed, the better the chances of locating termites. Planning, patience, and persistence are requisites for successfully using termite baits. This is a long term commitment and a slow solution if you already have termites

My property has a creek that is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. My drinking water comes from the groundwater beneath my land. I am the steward of this portion of the water shed and as such I will not pump a hundred gallons or more of chemicals into the soil every few years. So I have embarked on a preventative program of baiting which requires monitoring of the baits every 60 days to see if they have attracted any termites. Before baiting I needed to determine if the property had been impacted by termites. The baits would be placed without chemicals if the structure was free of termites. Thus, I meet Inspector Marlowe and his owner Stephen Dodge of ProTech Termite and Pest Control. For several years running Inspector Marlowe was the prize winning termite detection dog. His is a beagle of advanced age and getting ready to retire and be replaced by a younger associate. He was a sweet dog and still very active and enthusiastic. When Steve put on the fanny pack with the dog kibble in it, Marlowe was ready to hunt.

The fist thing Marlowe did was to roll around in the grass to hide his sent. This is an instinctive move with beagles who I think tend to smell like Frito chips. Then it was onto the house and the hunt for termites. The whole experience was like watching someone walk their dog though your house. Marlowe covered the entire footprint of the house, every corner, wall and box in the basement. It was simple, quick and a bit funny. No intrusions were found on the lower level so there was no need to search the upper floors. How certain am I that Marlowe was effective?

Normally when you have a termite inspection, a pest management professional conducting a visual inspection relies on finding live termites, mud tubes, and/or damaged wood to confirm a suspected infestation. Dogs rely on smell, not vision, to detect a wide array of materials, including explosives, narcotics, missing people. Dogs can be trained to a high level of accuracy. A study was performed by Shawn E. Brooks, Faith M. Oi and Philip G. Koehler at the University of Florida. Florida has a huge termite problem and is a leader in the study of termite treatment options. Their paper “Ability of Canine Termite Detectors to Locate Live Termites and Discriminate Them from Non-Termite Material” was published in 2003. They tested dogs specifically trained to detect termites in the methods used by law enforcement to train explosive detecting dogs. In field trials the dogs reliably located termites in 96.67% of the containers (positive indications). The dogs responded to 1.73% of the empty containers (false indications). In all dogs trained daily for 3 weeks to 3 months were able to accurately locate termites in 95.93% of the time. This is much higher than the human ability to detect termites. As recommended by the study Marlowe has gone to termite refresher camp.

It is essential to continue monitoring for termites in the baits and add Termidor as needed. The success of the treatment method needs to be assessed occasionally, monitoring will detect any infestations as early as possible. So I look forward to meeting Marlowe’s successor in the future.

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