Will Termite Killer Harm Bees?

I sometimes receive queries that represent real dilemmas for people who wish to protect bees.  It's not easy to respond to such emails, because on the one hand, I wish to see bees protected.  On the other, some problems could become very serious for those affected.  I judge each scenario on an individual basis.

One such query involved termites and termite colonies.  Not all countries have termite colonies, but where they are present, I understand they can cause very, very serious damage to a home.  Yes, they are amazing creatures, and a colony is an amazing super-organism, but if I had to look after my family and our home, what would I do about a termite colony that decided to take up residence with us?  What would you do?  Think about it.

The query was regarding the use of Termite killer - actually, the products listed are neonicotinoids, which are toxic for bees.  I have a whole page about this here.  This particular lady had already tried a solution not using neonicotinoids. (Now, if you are aware of a solution that definitely works without pesticides, please, please get in touch).

I decided this scenario was worth sharing with other readers, to provide a little clarity and guidance.  Here it is:


"I have termites next to my house! Previously, I had termites in the house. Last time I used the bait stations, but companies are recommending a perimeter liquid Termidor or Premise that is put into the ground in a trench. I am very concerned about the affect on honeybees, but can't have termites destroy my house! I wondered if shooting the liquid deep in the ground helps keep it from direct or indirect contact with bees. Suggestions?  Thank you".

My response:

"Many thanks for contacting me, and for your caring concern about the bees.

I do indeed have information about termites and the pesticide ingredient (neonicotinoids) you mention, and it is indeed toxic for bees.  However, the information is not intended to deter you from protecting your house.  It is only there to draw attention to the claims Bayer CropScience make with regard to its capacity for killing a colony insect, and the similarity with bees.

However, I think it vital that you protect your house. There are reportedly some organic methods to be rid of termites, such as this one here, but it may be the method you have tried previously:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNCwASxIWq4 (copy and paste the link into a new window).

However, I have absolutely no idea whether or not they work.

With regard to the injection method you mention, or how you should apply the product, the chemicals you describe (neonicotinoids) could harm bees by creating a toxic plant, if they are grown in the soil directly around the perimeter of your house.  This is because the poison is taken up from the soil, into the plant, where it can contaminate nectar and pollen. 

So what could you do to protect bees, but also protect your home from termites?

If you must use one of the chemicals you mention, then to protect bees, keep flowering plants that bees like, well away from the walls of your house (I mean, leave a margin, free of flowering plants).  If you are keen to see plants there, grow them in pesticide free compost in hanging baskets and containers.  You could also use plants that deter bees, or that are of no interest to bees, such as grasses, and the shrub Wormwood (Artemisia). But to be very safe, I think the plant boxes are better, and also to protect other invertebrates that might inhabit the grasses.  

If you do not wish to plant close to the house anyway (perhaps because you have decking or a patio, or gravel), then I think there is less to worry about.

The reason to leave a border (of several feet) away from the treated zone, is because the chemical is known to migrate into untreated areas, so you should leave a few feet of space around the perimeter of your home, free of plants, to avoid risk of contamination.  In addition, Bayer Cropscience claim that the product can remain effective (i.e. toxic) for up to 5 years against a colony of termites, so this is worth taking into account.


I hope this helps, and I appreciate your concern for the bees.

I realise for some people, my advice might be controversial, but I believe it is very important to be responsible.  I do not like pesticides - heaven knows I have campaigned on the issue intensively for some years.  But hurting people's lives is also a big no-no for me.

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