Analysis of the entomological accuracy. of the online news article, Your Home; ending invasion of termites

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1 Analysis of the entomological accuracy of the online news article, Your Home; ending invasion of termites BIO3323 Dr. Jon Houseman February 14,

2 Introduction The April 23rd, 2003 New York Times popular press article entitled Your Home; ending invasion of termites by Jay Romano, discusses the diverse techniques and methods used to eliminate home invaders, the termites. These ingenious insects can destroy a 2-story house without any obvious signs. Approximately over two billion dollars are spent every year controlling or preventing termite infestations (Do-It-Yourself Pest Control, Inc. 2000). New methods are being developed not to stop the termites with barriers but to eliminate them entirely with undetectable chemicals using termites social behavior to spread the killing substance. To assess the entomological accuracy of this popular press report, I consulted the work of the author s main source of entomological data, Professor Michael F. Potter from the University of Kentucky. I ve searched and found what might just be the original paper written by Dr. Potter himself, Termite Baits: A Guide For Homeowners (2004). I reviewed additional scientific literature and videos to validate and support the entomological data presented within this press article. Comparing the Press Article with the Scientific Evidence The focus of Romano s article is on the several ways that humans use to eliminate the worst enemy of our homes, the termites. Potential techniques had been developed to affect a whole colony of termites therefore efficiently killing them instead of leaving them to regroup and fight another day (Romano, 2003). This article targets casual readers that could be susceptible to termite infestations in their homes and gives them general information on the pest habitat, the formation and signs of near colonies, traveling ways 2

3 and recent developed Pest Control products. It limits the reader to a very brief life cycle of a model species not clearly mentioned, the eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes, which is the main specie observed in Dr. Michael F. Potter research. Romano covers the main and important chemicals used and the novel ones recently introduced into the market. The author conveys insufficient knowledge of the insect morphology and precise mechanism of action of each of the products mentioned above for a better comprehension of the substance used. The initial article, on which it was based, elaborates on the termite behavior but the focus of this paper is to compare the bait versus the barrier treatment (their site of action and their application). It also discusses the diverse techniques available to residents infested with termites and debates on the effectiveness of barriers versus baits. The different rank of termites and their morphology would be useful to identify the presence of a colony near by (see appendix I). Workers are about 1/8 inch long and are blind, wingless, soft- bodied, creamy white to grayish-white with a round head (Susan C. Jones, 2000). They constitute the majority of its family and do not reproduce actively. They are sterile and work constantly, forage for food, construct and repair their mount and tunnel with their droppings and they are the caretakers of eggs and young newly hatch (Susan C. Jones, 2000). Soldiers are also wingless and resemble workers except that they have a large, rectangular, yellowish-brown head with large jaws. The soldiers primary function is the colony defense (Susan C. Jones, 2000). Winged primary reproductives (neotenic reproductives) are called alates or swarmers, these are the ones to watch out for, for spreading. The alates of each species fly at a unique time of day and under specific conditions. In Toronto, the alates of R. 3

4 flavipes appear from February through May and usually fly about midday on warm days (Myles, ). However, they shed their wings along a basal suture soon after flight looking for a new territory to start a new colony. Their body color varies between species from black to yellow-brown. The eastern subterranean termite, R. flavipes, has alates that are black and about 0.4 inch long, with pale or grayish, translucent wings. The heads of a colony are called the king and queen. Neotenic reproductives often serve as replacements if something happens to the king and queen. Neotenic reproductives are generally yellow or mottled black and the female s abdomen may be distended due to developing eggs (Susan C. Jones, 2000). Without a good knowledge of pesticides and the way they act on the organism targeted, the readers will lack information that might be a concern for their pets and other animals around the surroundings and even on their own health. The various termicides named in this article were not properly described in composition and in the mode of action. There are 2 types of treatments used: the conventional treatment and the bait and monitor treatment. Starting with the conventional ones, there are the newest liquid barrier chemicals which are non repellent to the subterranean termites the most common termite found in southern Ontario (Myles, 2004). Three of them are acknowledged in Romano s article: Premise, Termidor and Phantom. Imidachloprid is registered as Premise, this chemical causes termites to stop feeding and socializing with others and eventually dies (McNally and al., 2005). As for Termidor, the main compound is fipronil, it acts on the nervous system by disrupting GABA channels and chloride channels leading to neurotoxicity, this is the number one termicide used (Dawson, 2005). 4

5 Phantom is another chloride chemical more specifically chlorfenapyr. This compound only becomes active when metabolized, and when so, the active form acts on the mitochondria and inhibits the oxidative phosphorylation of ATP leading to cell death and eventually the organism death (Ware and Whitacre, 2004). These methods work thanks to the highly social behavior of termites for which they are known. They feed each other and groom each other, so they are in constant contact. Termidor and other pesticides take advantage of this social behavior. The chemical is injected in the soil and through digging; termites will ingest the chemical, get infected and eventually carry it back to the colony on its body. This is what we call the transfer effect and with the slow acting effect of the termicide, the infected individual is able to spread the chemical throughout the whole colony (Termidor, 2005). Similar treatments will exterminate all of the termites of a colony within 3 months (All in one pest control, 2005). Sentricon is one of the examples of bait and monitor treatment mentionned in Romano s article. This colony elimination system uses a chitin inhibitor as a mode of action. The active compound is hexaflumuron, which is an insect growth regulator (IGR), it disrupts the growth process and kills the termite attempting to molt (Potter, 2004). The procedure of the application of Sentricon is composed of 3 easy steps: an initial monitoring to pinpoint the termites activity. After assessing their activity, a pest professional will deliver the bait. Finally further monitoring will be made for an ongoing protection (Potter, 2004). This is information that would have been interesting to add to the article and would have helped the readers for a better understanding of the overall focus. 5

6 The author did not mislead the readers and provide them with all of the sufficient information that was to the point. Although Romano could have supported many of his affirmations with sufficient scientific findings other than those from Dr. Michael F. Potter. The reference of other research made on different baiting techniques should have been done. An interesting study on termite effectuated in Toronto by Dr. Timothy G. Myles about a new technique he developed called the trapping/release method would have been worth mentioning or at least referred to. A documentary was posted on the Discovery Channel (can be visualize at titled Terminating Termites). Much work of Dr. Myles is available and would have been of good use to Romano in his article and it is unfortunate that he did not convey such a compelling subject. The author also could have informed the reader with existing alternatives other than chemical to effectively eliminate those living engineers, termites. 6

7 Reference: All in one pest control Termidor temite control. All in one pest control. URL: [http://www.onepest.com/id26.htm] Chaump, Tom BASF Professional Pest Control. Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik (BASF). URL: [http://www.termidoronline.com/basfarticles.asp] Cline Cindy Termites overview. Do-It-Yourself Pest Control, Inc. URL: [http://www.doityourselftermitecontrol.com/overview.htm#overview1] Dawson, Ron Termite control do it yourself liquid barrier soil termite treatment. Dallas Ft. Worth Pest Control. URL: [http://www.epestsupply.com/termite_treatment_methods.htm] Jones, Susan C Termite Control. Department of Entomology. The Ohio state University. URL: [http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2092.html] McNally, Price and Morris Research review: The hazards of being too social: Lethal horizontal transfer of Premise. Pest Control. URL: [http://www.pestcontrolmag.com/pestcontrol/article/articledetail.jsp?id=145981] Myles, Timothy G Urban Entomology Program. Centre of Urban and Community Studies. University of Toronto. URL: [http://www.utoronto.ca/forest/termite/termite.htm] Myles, T. G Termite Control in Canada. Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, Research Bulletin # pp. Potter, Michael F Termite baits, a guide for homeowners. Department of Entomology. Univeristy of Kentucky. URL: [http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/ent/ent65/ent65.htm] Romano, Jay Your home; ending invasion of termites. The New York Times. Late Edition - Final, Section 11, Column 1, Page 3. URL: [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9d02eed8163af933a15757c0 A9659C8B63] Ware, George W. and Whitacre, David M The Pesticide Book. 6 th edition. Published by MeisterPro Information Resources. A division of Meister Media Worldwide Willoughby, Ohio. URL: [http://ipmworld.umn.edu/chapters/ware.htm] 7

8 Appendix I Common Name eastern subterranean termite Scientific Name Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar) 8

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