I sometimes receive queries that represent real dilemmas for people who wish to protect bees - that includes me!
It's not always easy to respond to such emails, because some problems could become very serious for those affected. I judge each scenario on an individual basis.
One such query involved termite infestation of a home. Not all countries have termite colonies, but where they are present, some species can cause very, very serious damage to a the structure of a house (despite the fact that some species are actually benign or thought to be ecologically beneficial).
Just like honey bees, termites are fascinating creatures that live in colonies that function as a super-organism. However, if termites threatened your home, what would you do?
Here is the dilemma:
"I have termites next to my house! Previously, I had termites in the house and 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 honey bees, 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".
I love bees, but what 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 products being considered were a neonicotinoid and very similar type of systemic insecticide. Both are toxic for bees.
In fact, I include information about one of those termite treatments on my website. However, the information is not intended to deter anyone from protecting their home.
It is only there to draw attention to the claims made by Bayer CropScience with regard to its capacity for killing a colony insect.
Yet, how to deal with termites and protect bees is a problem faced by many. I decided my suggestions were worth sharing with other readers, to provide a little clarity and guidance.
Firstly, if you have a termite infestation, I think it is vital that you protect your home.
There are reportedly some organic methods to be rid of termites, however, I have absolutely no idea whether or not they work. Some pest controllers offer such solutions, but it would be important to discuss the matter with them.
One suggested solution for termites is featured on this video below - please note, again, I have no experience of using it:
I have also been informed that extreme heat treatment can help to kill termites in the home. Some pest control specialists offer this treatment and state that the procedure can be completed within 8 hours depending on the building structure and weather conditions.
I think this should be the last resort, and suspect they do not kill the entire colony as quickly as some other methods in any case, because it takes time for the poison to be distributed around the colony - and colonies are huge.
If you do, for some reason, decide to go with this method, then please note that Termidor contains Fipronil, whilst Premise contains imidacloprid. Both are highly toxic for bees. For this reason, why not try the other methods first?
If you have tried the other methods and are experiencing repeated infestations, these chemicals may protect your home for longer, but note, that you are also using poison in and around your home, so in my book, it's a last resort as it's not something I would want for my family or around my pets.
Another toxic chemical, Sentricon, used via the baiting system, may be a better option - please see below.
These chemicals harm bees by creating a toxic plant.
Therefore if flowering plants are grown in the contaminated soil directly around the perimeter of a house, those plants may represent a danger to bees once they are in flower.
This is because the poison is taken up from the soil, into the plant, where it can contaminate nectar and pollen.
If you must use one of the chemicals you mention, you need to leave a border (of several feet) away from the treated zone, free of flowering plants - and preferably free of any plants.
This is because these chemicals are known to migrate into untreated areas.
Leaving a few feet of space around the perimeter of your home, free of plants, will help avoid risk of poisoning pollinators.
If you are keen to see plants around your home, 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, because it is also important to protect other beneficial or benign invertebrates that might inhabit or visit the grasses (harmless beetles, butterflies, moths).
Please note, in addition, these chemicals stay around in the soil and remain at toxic levels for several years - hence, this is why they are said to provide long lasting protection.
For example, Bayer Cropscience claim that their product can remain effective (i.e. toxic) for up to 5 years against a colony of termites, so this is worth taking into account. It suggests soil will remain contaminated with poison for that period of time, thus continuing to represent a danger to bees.
An insecticide bating system, called Sentricon, may (because of the delivery system) pose less threat to bees.
However, despite some claims, it is also an insecticide which contains hexaflumuron, which is toxic for bees and is moderately persistent to persistent in soil (the bait may be applied to cardboard, for example, but whilst the cardboard will decompose, the chemical itself may remain for some time).
However, the theory is that by using the baiting system, the termites pass the poison (which is slow acting) around the termite colony, inhibiting the colony development, thus ultimately killing it. Thus, unlike soil drenching/injecting systems, this form of treatment should not pose such a high risk to bees.
However, please conduct further research before proceeding with a treatment.
I realize 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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