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Thursday, February 6, 2014


The week before last I grabbed an empty 5 litre brown demijohn from the bottom storage shelf in the cave to use in the wine making. We have lots of these stored on the higher shelf and this was the only one sitting on the bottom shelf due to space shortage. My eye caught an unusual mark on the shelving. A distinctive colour change from the shiny clear lacquer finish. A look at the base of the demijohn confirmed my thought and then an inspection with a torch confirmed my disbelief. Termite activity and live ones scurrying away from where the demijohn had been.

The mark of termites

After calls to three pest control companies, one was found which did not start the conversation about how many pages were included in their site report. The earliest any one could conduct an inspection was ten days away.

Not performing any intervention activity in the interim was reinforced something I vaguely remembered from many years ago when talking with an entomologist turned pest inspector. In those days the treatment was to gently open one of their tunnels and lightly and gently dust some participants with arsenic. Apparently individual termite behaviour is to return to the colony with food and come in contact with the queen who licks them and tnd thus dies bringing an end to the colony breeding.

Now the treatment is more sophisticated.  Special baits are inserted in the areas of activity which contain a harmless to humans chemical developed by the CSIRO. Termites shed their exterior shell on a very regular basis. This chemical prevents them from shedding which causes them to die.

So for the time being they are left alone to continue their destructive work. At this point we had no idea as to the extent of their activity in the cave. The building is soft wood framed with steel exterior cladding and Gyprock clad interior. Whether they had commenced destroying the roof supports of wall supports we had no idea and would not find out for 10 days. And I'm sure it was not covered by insurance.

Today was the day and the man arrived. He confirmed the mark on the shelf was termite damage. We lifted off a board in the ground level shelving to expose a massive level of activity. It appeared the shelving about three metres in length was a mass of very busy termites. The noise level was quite distinct -  a steady hum of activity. Back went the board so as not to disturb them. They like moisture and no light.

The next step was to approximate the size and extent of the activity and then find the point of ingress. The good news was they were contained no higher than a couple of hundred millimetres up the wall and mostly in the bottom shelving. Well it was good news that the roof would not collapse. The exterior metal sheeting could at least be removed reasonably easily later when the colony was deceased and any timber replaced and splints installed for structural supports. Not too serious so far.

After a long search the ingress point was found and left undisturbed. We discussed remedial works to be done later to reduce further risks. Not too hard. Just leave about 75 mm of slab exposed and fix the leaky gutter which kept the ingress point moist. The exposed slab is a partial deterrent but it also allows for easy inspection.

A thorough inspection of the house revealed no activity and some suggestions were made as to preventative actions for it..

The removal of the colony will take many weeks as baits are inserted, checked and replaced until finally the colony dies. Two options take a fixed price of $2000 plus GST or pay per visit until the job is done. Oh well fixed price sounds good and todays visit is deducted from the fixed payment.

What alternatives does one have?

And of course he had no spare baits with him to start the treatment. Being fully booked up his next visit would not be for another two weeks unless there was a cancellation of his appointments.

We wait and live with our termites.


  1. That sounds very expensive to me and ridiculous that the "expert" didn't have the stuff with him. Can't you get the poison and do-it-yourself?

    1. It is expensive but when looking for an inspector we received some alternative quotes on treatments if an infestation was found and that appears to be the price. It was no surprise. I had some interaction with the entomologist turned pest person some years ago and it is a tricky task to get right and needs a bit more knowledge than I have. Don't know if the baits are easily available but will check. This may be a case of observe and learn for future self sufficiency. The cheapest solution would have been to have the exposed slab edges and check for activity regularly, something I already knew. This is definitely the price of complacency.