Carbon Dioxide May be the Future of Fighting Termite Infestation

One of the difficulties of detecting termites is the fact that they cannot be detected until they have done a significant amount of damage. The method of detection is at present extremely nineteenth century. It involves a termite professional scrambling around the joists, armed with a flashlight and a screw driver trying to detect termite poo!

Thanks to new research by the LSU Agricultural centre all this may well change and a termite detector will become a standard feature of homes within areas at risk of termites. These wood eating pests have already eaten a substantial amount of house before they have been developed because they do not live in wood they merely eat it and they leave the front façade intact. Some areas of the USA are so badly affected that it costs over a billion a year so any development of methods to ferret termites out before they take over is a spectacular improvement on present day methods of termite control.

Where there are termites there is natural gases such as carbon dioxide. A global database has been devised describing the geographical distribution of termites by their emissions of methane and carbon dioxide. If you think that scientists should have better things to do with their time think again of over a billion dollars a year in compensation claims for termite damage.

As well as producing carbon dioxide and methane scientists have recently discovered that when defending themselves against their natural predators' ants the termites produce a gas called naphthalene another hydro carbon gas. The new detection device for termites analyses the presence of these gases within the walls or cavities of a house.

If the composition is indicative of the gases produced by termites then there is a very strong correlation that a termite nest is developing. In general if the gases associated with termites are then termites are in fact present. If these methods are found to be successful it is likely that homes will be fitted as standard rather like fitting a smoke detector. At the present time an early warning system would prevent a dry wood termites' nest from gaining control, as they can take several years to develop fully.

Louis Bjostad an etymologist in a study at a Colorado university found that termites' rely on the presence of carbon dioxide to find food and shelter and if this can be turned against them they have a potent termite weapon. The research was carried out by placing termite in a tube with two arms one contained carbon dioxide in a larger dosage than found naturally in soil and the other contained ambient air. All the termites explored both possibilities but the vast number chose the carbon dioxide area. From this Bjostad concluded that to the termites it signified a potential food source because there main natural food source is wood. When wood rots it emits a large amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. He also found that termites' nests generally contain more carbon dioxide than the ambient air.

This has powerful implication in green pest control. At the present time chemicals are nearly always used to eradicate termites in the form of poisons. If the high concentrations of carbon dioxide can be used to lure the termites out of their nests then Bjostad will have found an abundant, safe non toxic product to kill termites. One of the reasons that this is interesting is the fact that it does not need research and development costs and it can be on the market shortly because it is not a new chemical insecticide which has to undergo rigid tests.

One of the most important aspects of this is it can alter termite behavior if the termites get sufficiently confused they can be channeled away from homes to construct their nests. It will still need chemicals to kill them but there nests will be more accessible.

"Man made insecticides assume the pests will come into contact with the chemical and die," Bjostad said. "This is a case where we're using the pests' own genetic predispositions to elements that already exist in nature to change their behavior or lure them to their deaths."

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By Frank Reece. Page last modified Nov. 10, 2008.

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