Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to stop the termites from eating our house

This morning, Leyla wondered if there were any termites in St. Louis, where we live. I said yes.

She said, in St Louis County? She appreciates the distinction between the city and the county, where we live.

I said yes, there are.

She said, but there aren't any termites in our neighborhood. In fact there are, I said.

We were driving through our St. Louis County neighborhood to her school, which is nearby. I felt like she was looking at the passing houses for evidence of termites.

But there aren't any termites eating our house, she said.

I sighed. Not really knowing the seasonal development patterns of termites, I winged it and said yes, when it gets warm again there will almost certainly be some termites trying to eat our house.

She considered this thoughtfully. She said, but the termites haven't eaten any of our house yet.

I said, in fact they have. Small parts of our house had been replaced after termites damaged them, we just didn't explain all of that to her at the time. We had just bought the house and she was very little at the time. She is six now.

But there are no holes in our house, she said. I decided to concede that point and let it go. It kind of depended on what you wanted to count as a hole.

I've got an idea! she said suddenly, with much more force. When it gets warm, let's put a piece of wood outside of our house so the termites eat that instead!

I said that I doubted every termite would rush right over to that piece of wood. Some of them would be closer to our house and would try to eat it instead.

She was beginning to consider the problem for real now. The termites had us surrounded!

Why can't we put up an electric fence that shocks the termites and keeps them out? she wanted to know.

I had to admit that was a good question. I told her if she could figure out a way to make that work, then she would - I didn't want to say "make a lot of money," like that is the goal - I said, then a lot of people would want to buy one.

It works for dogs, she said.

I knew it would come to that. Just days before we had discussed, to the best of my very limited scientific abilities, the phenomena of invisible electric fences that keep dogs penned up in yards.

I explained that the electric dog fence senses movement, and if you were to make an electric fence so sensitive that it detected the tiny movements of tiny termites, and put that all the way around your house, then it would shock everything that moved. People would get shocked every time they walked out of their house.

I mean a tiny electric fence, she said. Tiny like the termites.

That is what scientists do, I said, research scientists - they take ideas like that and they test them, they see if they can find a way to make their ideas work.

At that point, Leyla was bounding out of the car and bouncing into the school, to learn more about termites or, who knows what. Tarantulas?


Image from some termite site.

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