Western drywoods love pinene scent, study says

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June 3, 2024

Western drywood termites (Incisitermes minor). Photo: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Photo: Whitney Western drywood termites (Incisitermes minor). IMAGE: WHITNEY CRANSHAW, COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY, BUGWOOD.ORG

Scientists from the University of California Riverside (UCR) have discovered a highly effective, nontoxic and inexpensive way to lure hungry termites to their doom.

The method, detailed in the Journal of Economic Entomology, uses pinene, which an article from UCR describes as “a pleasant-smelling chemical” released by forest trees that reminds western drywood termites (Incisitermes minor) of their food. For this study, the affected termites followed the scent to a spot of insecticide injected into wood.

“We saw significant differences in the death rates using insecticide alone versus the insecticide plus pinene,” UCR entomologist Dr. Dong-Hwan Choe, who led the discovery, said in the news release. “Without pinene, we got about 70 percent mortality. When we added it in, it was over 95 percent.”

Native to North America, these termites are “recyclers,” Dr. Choe explained, because they are drawn to dead wood above ground, and consume it with the help of microorganisms in their guts.

That said, the insects are unable to distinguish between dead trees and the wood used to build homes. They are commonly found in both California and Florida, as well as parts of Canada and Mexico. “It’s only a matter of time before termites attack a house, especially in warmer parts of the states,” Dr. Choe said of the distribution areas.

Tent fumigation and localized insecticide injections are currently the Top 2 approaches to controlling drywoods, both of which can be time- and labor-intensive for pest control companies. The pinene discovery might aid in zeroing in on the affected areas only — with fewer resources and in less time than before.

“Even at low concentrations, pinene is good at attracting termites from a distance,” Dr. Choe said in the news release. He said it’s not functioning like a pheromone, which might appeal to the mating desires of the insect. Rather, think of how the smell wafting from a Cinnebon might entice you to immediately walk over and order a cinnamon roll. (That’s no accident, by the way.)

How this new information will be used in new termite control approaches remains to be seen, but Dr. Choe said the end goal is to “use fewer chemicals without compromising efficiency.”

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About the Author

Heather Gooch

Heather Gooch is the editor-in-chief for PMP magazine. She can be reached at hgooch@northcoastmedia.net or 330-321-9754.

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