A Contribution of ICAR National Fellow Project

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About National Fellow Project

Research Team

Project Title: 

Environmentally  Sustainable  Termite  Control: Integrative & Inclusive Approach of Frontier and Indigenous Technologies


Title of the Project:            Environmentally Sustainable Termite Control: Integrative & Inclusive Approach of Frontier and Indigenous Technologies

Objectives:                      The objectives as underlined are deliberately designed encompassing three domains – the basic & strategic research, applied aspects (the pragmatic-approach) in Indian context and the developmental domain i.e. extension part to make the output reaching the end-users.

1. To validate the vast extant Indian indigenous traditional knowledge (ITK) pertaining to termite control - in scientific manner both in vitro and in vivo on potential of these tactics of termite extermination.

2. Judicious utilization of frontier technologies – molecular and biotechnological (in taxonomy), insect nutritional investigations & physiology, behavioral studies, toxicological aspects (bioassays, residue chemistry), use of remote sensing in survey, surveillance – monitoring and detection in particular.

3. Integrating the clause 1 and 2 as above for formulating an environmentally sustainable termite control strategy. Principal research interests will be on the behavior, ecology, and control of the termites, the most important economic pest in India. The development of effective and environmentally compatible methods of termite control is the goal. This goal can only be accomplished through an improved understanding of termite colony demographics, foraging behavior (particularly the role of chemical mediation in orientation and feeding), behavioral ecology, colony regulatory mechanisms, and termite communication. Associations of termites with pathogenic microbes are also active research areas with important applied consequences.

4. The extension module – educate to eradicate will go simultaneously with intermittent evaluation procedures.

Detailed justification indicating therein as to how the project will add to our present knowledge and create a culture of basic research in the National Agricultural Research System:

The document drafted by members of the UNEP/FAO/Global IPM Facility Expert Group on Termite Biology and Management that was established in 2000, put much emphasis on alternative approaches to chemicals (persistent organic pollutants, POPs) for termite management, on the backdrop of Stockholm Convention. A distinct dichotomy exists between the pest management literature depicting termites as “pests” and the ecological literature demonstrating their crucial role in ecosystems. No doubt some species cause significant damage to crops, rangeland, trees, and structural setups; same time do they play a beneficial role through essential ecological processes. The ongoing interest in sustainable agriculture and food security globally highlights the need for a more balanced approach to termite control and maintenance of their ecosystem services. Whilst redressing the mismatch between these two objectives, a holistic appraisal and approach of the termite problem and opportunities for their environmentally sustainable management is the need of hour. Management of risk and ensuring resilience are key concepts in sustainability, and these demand for a strategy that combines the skills and indigenous technical knowledge of farmers with modern scientific knowledge (Sileshi et al., 2009).

The Rationale           National Agricultural Policy and the Tenth Five Year Plan place high priority on raising agricultural productivity as means to achieve more rapid agricultural growth and reduce rural poverty. Ensuring economic and ecologically sound access to food to every Indian, while conserving and improving the natural resources and traditional wisdom, in a more competitive post-WTO regime, is the fourth  challenge as chosen by the national policy makers.

The Approach             Principal research interests are the behavior, ecology, and control of the subterranean termite, which is a serious structural pest world-wide, and the most important economic pest in India. The development of effective and environmentally compatible methods of termite control is the goal of ongoing scientific community. This goal can only be accomplished through an improved understanding of termite colony demographics, foraging behavior (particularly the role of chemical mediation in orientation and feeding), behavioral ecology, colony regulatory mechanisms, and termite communication. Associations of termites with decay fungi and with other insect-pathogenic microbes are also active research areas with important applied consequences. Appropriate care ought to be offered on the termite problem vis-à-vis the contemporary climate change, on the national scenario.

Molecular techniques have significantly contributed to nearly all areas of biology. Progress in some areas, such as systematics and taxonomy, the molecular basis of caste differentiation, and colony breeding structure, will largely depend on continued application of molecular methods. In other areas, such as foraging ecology, population dynamics, and community ecology, molecular techniques can provide important information on colony identity, allowing for much more detailed and comprehensive studies than would otherwise be possible. In addition, the use of molecular markers is playing an increasingly important role in applied studies to assess colony-level effects of termiticide treatments in the field.

The objectives of this study can be met because at IARI, we have the vast exposure and requisite infrastructure for carrying out both basic and strategic research and field trials. State-of-the-art and facilities like Toxicology Laboratory of Entomology Division, Pusa National Collection – Taxonomy unit, National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology, Remote Sensing in Division of Soil Physics, Residue labs in Division of Agricultural Chemicals are the added advantages.

Review of literature

This part is presented in a three-domain approach pin-pointedly pondering on the critical gaps, associated literatures citation; and capability of the proposing candidate.

Targeted Research components

Gaps – critical in Indian context and the Redressal means proposed

Frontier & indigenous technologies at disposal (capability)

1st Domain: Basic & Strategic

Rearing technique


Not attempted seriously so far in India. Literature on rearing termites is practically zero. In many instances, conclusions on the control potential of any termiticide or, of the entomo-pathogenic micro-organisms for termites is tentative and based on either laboratory studies with limited numbers of termites in a restrictive environment (petri dish) or on observations of organisms isolated from termites in the field without much knowledge of the impact of such organisms at the population level of field colonies.


The proposing candidate expertise in artificial diet standardization (international publications and patents to his credit). Rearing will be standardized as per Grace (1986) in humidity chambers specifically designed by us. An all-search rearing technique will be launched for mass rearing in laboratory/ semi-field situations.

Taxonomic investigations

Globally, though literature on taxonomic aspects is ample, in Indian situations the accomplishments are limited. Glaring example is absence of termite faunistic survey fact sheets in the IARI campus itself. The cumbersome conventional taxonomic tools must be substituted with latest ones from the molecular/ biotechnological field.

Existing taxonomic keys of termites are spotty in coverage, both in terms of taxonomic breadth and geographic region, and the characters used to distinguish species are often too variable to provide reliable determinations (Szalanski et al., 2003). The recent application of molecular genetic data, especially in combination with cuticular hydrocarbon composition, morphological characters, and flight phenologies, has helped clarify the taxonomy of important termite genera. Molecular genetic methods are providing exceptional new insights into the biology of subterranean termites (Vargo et al., 2006; Vargo  and Husseneder,  2009). In addition to elucidating such basic processes as development and caste differentiation, molecular techniques give us a window into the breeding structure, as well as colony and population dynamics, that has remained elusive owing to the cryptic nesting and foraging habits characteristic to termites; in particular for Reticulitermes and Coptotermes – the prominent genera especially in temperate and subtropical regions. Contrary to such advanced research progress, in tropics of the Indian subcontinent, there exists a serious critical gap. Lack of attempts in this regard clearly implies the inadequacy of the expertise – Indian entomologists in molecular biology field, if very few exists, then the non-grant of project proposals to such partially adept professionals. This sorry state of status quo demands an urgent breakthrough for much directed and concerted research endeavors. The present pursuit is a forward step in this direction.

Application of Molecular biology in taxonomy.

The application of molecular genetic techniques to clarify species relationships has provided PCR-based tools for species identification. PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism methods can well be adopted. The advantages of such diagnostic methods are (a) they remove much of the ambiguity of identification based on morphological keys, (b) they can be used with any caste or developmental stage, and (c) they can be performed on a single individual.

The use of molecular markers to identify large numbers of individual colonies and track them over time allows for more rigorous field evaluations of insecticide treatments than was previously possible. By comparing the genotypic profiles of colonies present before and after treatment, we can determine whether termites that reinfest treated areas or bait stations are remnants of targeted colonies, invading neighboring colonies, or previously undetected hidden colonies.



ICAR has launched a Nationwide Mission Mode project on collection, documentation, and validation of ITKs under NATP. The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) of NISCARE (CSIR) is another worth citing development. Various NGOs like National Innovation Foundation also augmenting in this effort. Our project will look after the validation part pertaining to termite control.

Vast field facility and other infrastructure of IARI serves as the battle ground for such large scale scientific validation of farmers’ practices

2nd Domain: Applied aspects

Survey & surveillance – Ecological and behavioral studies

The application of the mark-release-recapture (MRR) technique to connect spatially separated groups of foragers to the same colony (Stansly et al, 2001) was an important advance in delimiting colony foraging areas and has been used extensively over the past three decades (Begon, 1979; Su et al., 1993). Remote sensing tools – detection and monitoring devices will also be tried.

The much controversial issue of role of crop residue in termite infestation can well be scored out, by molecular-assisted correct taxonomic identification. The population estimation models (Begon, 1979; Su et al., 1993) will certainly offer insights, in Indian context. We will be the first in adopting such models in India.

Effect of agronomic practices like tillage, crop residue in the termite infestation will be investigated with integration of termiticides, bait technology and other biological options like bio-agents.

The proposing candidate have some exposure on termite management with bio-pesticides and botanicals in addition to synthetic insecticides in large scale field trials.

Termite bio-rationals

Insecticidal baits for controlling subterranean termites have been under investigation for last 4-decades and recently put into practical use to control large colonies of subterranean termites. Successful baiting has been reported using the chitin inhibitor hexaflumuron  and sulfluramid (Grady and Gold, 2002). Unfortunately India should start from the scratch.

Bioassays and rearing perfection will harness such investigations to yield in outcomes on sound footings.

Trap-treat-release technique (Myles, 2004) is to be followed.

Termite bio-control agents and other Novel tactics

Among the diversity of practiced and potential methods, biological control option continues to attract a great deal of attention. A partial review by Myles (2002) lists 2 viruses, 5 bacteria, 17 fungi, 5 nematodes and 4 mites. The full list of such organisms is no doubt larger. Diseased termite colonies are rarely encountered in the field. However, inherent ability of termites, such as allogrooming, removing, entombing or feeding on cadavers, and the production of antibiotics ensure that disease outbreaks are kept at bay (Lenz, 2005). Only when colony vigour is weakened by age or chemical control measures, can epizootics readily develop and colonies may perish from diseases. Some of the modern termiticides like imidacloprid (Boucias et al., 1996; Neves and Alves, 1999) acts synergistically; that offers feasibility of meaningful integration with bio-control agents.

Successful baiting has been reported using the chitin inhibitor hexaflumuron (Su, 1994; Su et al., 1995). The Indian pesticide market is devoid of such bait systems contrary to counterparts in rest of the world. This starling lack points the utter gap in the research and developmental vacuum in this aspect, which demands urgent attention.

Technical Programme

Research component: basic & applied

  • Maintenance of termite culture: Test insects will be reared both on natural  diets and artificial diets. Various kinds of bioassays like Trap-treat-release technique (Myles, 2004) are to be followed in the screening process.
  • Triple mark-recapture with Nile blue dye can be used to delineate foraging ranges and to estimate population sizes (Stansly et al., 2001). Colony population will be estimated using a weighted mean model (Begon, 1979; Su et al., 1993) Foraging ranges are to be delineated by observation of marked termites in monitoring stations or on stakes. One active bait station/stake will be chosen to initiate mark-recapture. Termites captured at that station will be fed on "filter paper disks (Whatman No. 1) stained with a 0.05% wt/wt solution of Nile Blue A (Su and Scheffrahn, 1988). Marked termites will be counted and weighed again before being released back into the same monitoring station 3 d after collection. At 2 week intervals, blocks and termites will be collected from all monitoring stations at the site and the process repeated with all blocks containing marked termites until three iterations has been completed.
  • Pesticide Risk Analysis (PRA) will be performed for appraisal of the termiticide residue chemistry. Bioassay and field evaluations will be done on various crops for baits, termiticides, entopathogenic microbials and other non-chemical methods (like cultural practices). 
  • Molecular technique assisted tools will be used for basic studies like taxonomic, behavioural, physiologicals investigations. 
  • Field validation of ITKs on termite control.
  • Development aspect Stakeholder workshops and training programmes are planned. This would involve  training programmes for scientists and students to update them about the novelty of the approaches followed in the project. Publications and popular articles would be written to inform the scientific and farming community about the output of the project and its expected impact.

Specialized Training programmes (national/ international) proposed to be organized/ books to be written, and courses to be taught.

Educate to Eradicate, will be a nationwide program intended to suppress termites through research and education. The project is envisaged to cater to the needs of ultimate users – the farmers as well as the homeowners stressed with termite problems. The educational outreach program is one component of this multi-faceted research project. Public schools are ideal locations to assess termite presence, as they are situated in every community and in every environment. Student involvement is viewed as research assistance, and as a method of extending the research information developed on termite prevention and control into the local community. Participating teachers and students from public schools will have an opportunity to interact with ICAR setup, research and education staff and learn science through hands-on activities designed most specifically on termites, in an inquiry-based setting in the classroom.

Training will be imparted at various levels. Trainers training and grass-root trainings will be the two-pronged module in this approach.

Deliverables expected to be developed during the span of project are: trainers training (to school teachers, agricultural officers/workers), class-room teaching, farmers field days – hands on trainings, public media - posters, charts, pamphlets,  books, booklets and technical bulletins to be prepared in large scale and distributed.

A nationwide Termites for everyone – The Termitecontrol  is envisaged to be the milestone in ICT for sustainable agricultural development of the nation. Course to be taught  Urban Pest Management – Termite management will be an integral and major part of this course.

Expected impact of the output(s) on the agriculture of the country:

                             The Tenth National Five Year Plan lays major emphasis on the indigenous technologies and focus on latest technologies available elsewhere. With respect to natural resource-richness and existing ITK, India has a clear-cut competitive advantage globally. The benefits of S&T can percolate to the rural poor. World Summit on Sustainable Development held at Johanesburg in South Africa (2002) has strongly advocated the use of local ITKs in crop husbandry practices. The National Innovation Foundation (NIF) encourages innovations based on traditional knowledge. Most of the ITKs practiced in different part of country were remaining obscure, and this proposal aims at using them for relevant pest-management strategies in relation to termites. Frontier technologies like molecular biology; remote sensing can be utilized pragmatically. Termites are the major hurdle in agriculture, forestry and urban areas, and results from this project will provide needed insight to facilitate environmentally responsible termite control. Patents deliverable from this project will provide an impetus to the termite management industry, help the people to think locally and do their part judiciously in termite control.

The deliverables thus likely to be obtained from this investigation, as originated from Indian ITK, the patents will be applicable to industrial houses for commercial purpose. However, farming community may have the free access to the technology for domestic use. Complete prevention and eradication of termites is not a plausible management objective; instead the focus should be on better strategic management, and on reducing the costs to people and the environment in a sustainable manner. As the National Policy of Agriculture seeks to actualize the vast untapped potential of ITK and frontier technologies, this project is envisaged apropos.


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Vargo, E.L., Juba T.R. and DeHeer C.J. 2006. Relative abundance and comparative breeding structure of subterranean termite colonies (Reticulitermes flavipes, R. hageni, R. virginicus, and Coptotermes formosanus) in a South Carolina lowcountry site as revealed by molecular markers. Annals of  Entomological Society of America  99:1101–9

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