Termite bait is a system that is designed to kill them in a different way than liquid treatments. Whereas a liquid treatment just tries to kill any termite that comes into contact with it or create a barrier termites cannot pass, bait systems are geared towards killing off the colony itself. This is a relatively newer method and other than a couple of specific brands of liquid treatment (such as Termidor) is generally more effective.
Most bait systems rely on you sticking a little plastic stake
into the ground in various places around your house.
The stakes are used as a monitoring system - wood is inside them, with no chemicals or bait, and periodically the pest control service will check to see if termites have gotten into any of them.
If they find any, they will replace the wood with pesticides that are specifically designed to kill termites. Here's a picture:
The bait will generally be a slow acting chemical that does not kill the termite immediately. Many systems use "insect growth regulators" which are chemicals that cause termites to have problems growing to maturity - either killing them at some stage or keeping them from ever becoming adults. Insect growth regulators affect the nervous system of insects to cause them to develop improperly or act abnormally in a way that kills them. Baits are spread throughout the colony because termites instinctively groom each other and feed each other. They will gradually spread the bait throughout the entire colony in this way.
This can be better than liquid treatment because it is nowhere near as environmentally damaging as the older liquids - baits use very small doses of chemicals, and they are only toxic to certain kinds of insects. When compared to the hundreds of gallons of chemicals used in older treatments, it is generally just a lot safer. Also, because the bait is inside an underground station, children and animals will not have access to it. It usually completely eliminates a termite colony, while liquid treatments frequently do not kill it off entirely.
On the other hand, it is more expensive than most liquid pesticides and requires frequent inspection. It is also very slow to act, and can take months to kill off a colony. The reason for the lack of speed is that you can't just stick out bait and have termites eat it. They will tunnel around randomly, and you have to put it out all over and wait for them to tunnel to it by chance. If a house is infested to the point that serious damage is occurring, it may be far too slow to work effectively as a treatment. However, if you have caught the termites early on, you should have plenty of time because it can take a colony years before it is causing any significant damage to your home. Finally, it does not leave a "barrier" to infestation after you're done with it. Unlike with a liquid treatment, there is nothing left behind to stop future infestations.
One of the major bait systems is Sentricon, which uses a chemical that kills termites by making them unable to molt.
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