The EntomoBiotics Inc. Rodent & Snake Control System (RSCS™) Bait Stations

— This article by Jerry Cates was first published on 17 October 2018, and was last revised and expanded on 19 November 2018. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 20:10(01).


The Job of Winning the War on Commensal Rodents, with the EntomoBiotics Inc. Rodent & Snake Control System (RSCS™), has at its heart the RSCS™ Bait Station.  

Fig. 1. One of the RSCS™-modified rodent bait station configurations currently in use at a client site. Placements are chosen based on a range of factors, including the history of rodent activity in the area, human foot traffic nearby, and the proximity of rodent attractants. The stock bait station, as received from the manufacturer, is transformed into one of the RSCS™-modified versions, such as the one shown above, in the EntomoBiotics Inc. laboratory. Our modifications make the finished version less vulnerable to moisture, less attractive to slugs and snails, and easier to service.

The proprietary EntomoBiotics Inc. RSCS program utilizes very special rodent bait stations…

Note: This program is known as the EntomoBiotics Inc. Rodent & Snake Control System because, whenever a prospective client tells us they have a “snake problem,” we inform them that the real issue isn’t really the snakes they see, but the rodents the snakes prey upon that they rarely see. By controlling the rodents at a client site, we also control the majority of the snakes there, but the RSCS™ program doesn’t stop with rodent control, alone. Some snakes, including juvenile and mature copperheads and practically all juvenile rat snakes, also prey on large insects and lizards; to help control those snakes, we coat each rodent bait station in the lab with a durable, rain-fast, multi-insect pesticide that exterminates the large insects that snakes and lizards prey on. By reducing the insects that juvenile snakes, lizards, and mature copperheads prey upon, the populations of snakes and lizards is reduced. That — in turn — further reduces incursions by those snakes that prey on all three food sources: rodents, insects and lizards. When each used station is returned to the EntomoBiotics Inc. laboratory, it is sanitized, cleansed, and re-provisioned with fresh rodent bait products, then re-coated with the durable, rain-fast, multi-insect pesticide, and returned to inventory.

The stations in use with this program have changed over time as newer and more advanced bait stations became available from their manufacturers, and as modifications and additions are made to those stations.

Those stock bait stations are special because of the innovative R&D carried out by the companies that make them. We carefully test each new bait station as it comes on the market. Only the best make the cut for use with the RSCS™ program, but even then the stock bait stations fail to meet our exacting standards. What makes these stock bait stations suitable for placement at our client sites is the set of modifications and additions we apply to them in the EntomoBiotics Inc. laboratory.

Stock Bait Stations vs. the RSCS™ Program Models…

The rodent bait station market is very competitive. For the vast majority of pest management firms, per-unit cost is near or at the top of their list of choice factors. To stay in business these manufacturers must cater to the needs of the average pest management firms they sell to, which means they must watch pricing carefully. To keep pricing low, the manufacturers have to cut corners, even when doing so reduces efficacy.

EntomoBiotics Inc., on the other hand, places functionality over cost. Our clients demand superior performance. They don’t appreciate ugly, dirty, beat-up bait stations that make their manicured landscape look trashy, and they reject the idea that having rodent bait stations on their property necessarily means harboring, for long periods of time in those bait stations, the bacteria, viruses, mites, ticks and fleas the rodents leave behind after feeding on the station’s bait. The bait stations we provide our clients always contain palatable bait products that rodents find irresistible, are delivered to our client sites in a clean and sanitary condition, and are kept that way throughout the servicing program. These are high standards. Such standards require us to do all we can to find the best station on the market, then make that station even more secure, less vulnerable to moisture infiltration, less accommodating to slugs and snails, easier to sanitize, clean and reprovision, and more effective as multi-target pest eliminators.

Fig. 2. Bait provisioning inside the RSCS version of the BLWL. This configuration is used in areas where high water conditions occur, where there is a history of frequent moisture issues, and/or in places subject to unusual insect, slug, or snail incursions.

…Please keep tuned to this web page for the latest news on the then-current RSCS™ bait stations we deploy at our client sites. We never sell these stations because, on each service call, we  (1) replace the used stations with the newest, most effective model in our inventory, and then take the used station back to the EntomoBiotics Inc. laboratory to be (2) retrofitted to incorporate the latest improvements applied to stations used in the RSCS™ program, (3) sanitized to destroy bacteria, viruses, mites, ticks, fleas and other vermin left behind by the rodents that feed on the bait in the stations, (4) fully cleansed of debris and other foreign matter that reduce bait palatability, and (4) treated with a durable, rain-fast multi-target pesticide in preparation for re-deployment to another client site. New station designs emerge regularly, and modifications to them are constantly being introduced.

Today the station used with the RSCS program is a highly modified version of either the Bell Labs Protecta EVO Unweighted Landscape (BLUL), or the Bell Labs Protecta EVO Weighted Landscape (BLWL).

All the photos on this page depict these stations. But, before we discuss those stations in detail, it may help to explain the evolution we’ve gone through to get where we are today.

The Protecta EVO Express (which we refer to, in the EntomoBiotics Inc. lab, as the BLPE): Our Very First RSCS™ Bait Station…

Fig. 3. Bait provisioning inside the RSCS™ version of the BLUL. This configuration is used in areas where high water conditions are not likely to occur, where there is no history of frequent moisture issues, and/or in places not subject to unusual insect, slug, or snail incursions.

The first rodent bait station used with the RSCS program was the Protecta EVO Express (BLPE). This, station, which remains on the market today, is a black, high profile, weighted bait station. Although the weight of the station is not sufficient to keep it in place in all of the sites where it can be installed, it represented — at the time of its initial introduction — a much-needed improvement over all the unweighted stations then available.

NOTE: The narrative that follows includes candid critiques of a select number of the basic bait boxes designed and made by a world-class manufacturer of rodent bait stations, Bell Laboratories, Inc. the renowned world leader in all the technologies revolving around the control of rodents. We at EntomoBiotics Inc. consider, as the true heroes in this drama, the researchers and engineers at Bell Labs whose work has produced each of the designs discussed here. Honest critiques must, however, necessarily point out flaws and design deficiencies that we observe as these bait boxes are deployed in the real world. We present our honest critiques here without apology, but would be remiss if — in the process — we failed to also express our heartfelt gratitude to those whose work we critique. Absent the stock bait boxes produced by Bell Labs, we would have nothing to criticize; with them, despite the flaws and deficiencies about which we here gently complain, we’ve still been able to do a masterful job of exterminating rodents in a variety of environments. We just want to do it better, and that is what the RSCS™ program is all about. We aren’t denigrating or ignoring the hard work and genius that the folks at Bell Labs poured into the design, testing, and marketing of these devices. Truly, that is the hardest part of all. Critiquing them, once they are put on the market, is the easy part. 

As with all the competing weighted stations, the BLPE elevates its bait platform above the surface of its placement site. It is superior to all its weighted competitors, however, in that it also elevates its bait platform above the station’s ingress/egress ports. This feature helps protect the station from horizontal flows of windblown rain and sprinkler-head sprays. With the exception of the BLWL, recently introduced by Bell Labs and described later in this article, no other bait station on the market possesses that feature.

Fig. 4. Components of the RSCS™ version of the BLWL. The bait posts have been permanently affixed to the black plastic removable bait platform. The concrete block (lower left) has been sealed to prevent moisture absorption. A weighted base has been added to the BLWL, which is elevated above that base (see fig. 4). The BLWL base has been perforated to facilitate drainage of moisture from the station (fig. 5), into the free space between the weighted base and the BLWL. 

For the BLPE to be used with the RSCS program, a redundant locking mechanism was provided, its bait posts were stabilized (permanently gluing them to the bait platform, so they would not extract during cleaning and re-provisioning), and moisture vulnerability issues were assessed and, after a fashion, addressed. We were just beginning to understand the importance of moisture problems in stock bait stations, so our initial approach to that was amateurish, to say the least. Over the next few years, however, we made a number of important strides forward on that front.

Early on, we recognized the importance of the competence of the basic design, particularly the elevated and protected nature of its bait platform, along with the essential weight of the BLPE. It was because of this recognition that the BLPE became the standard — with regard to those specific features — against which all later RSCS stations have been measured.

Despite being the best rodent bait station available when it was introduced, the BLPE is generally regarded as having an unattractive appearance that limits its suitability for certain placements. Because it is black, its interior attracts slugs and snails, which prefer to feed inside darkened cavities.

Though the BLPE bait platform is highly protected from the elements, this feature has a dark side: it tends to cause the station to harbor moisture inside the feeding cavity for relatively long periods because air flow is inhibited. This added moisture also attracts slugs and snails, and leads to mold and mildew overgrowth on the station’s bait provisions. Both conditions quickly make the bait unpalatable to rats and mice when the station in placed in an environment subject to periodic high-moisture onslaughts.

Further, the BLPE’s locking mechanism can become compromised under certain conditions of use, and though those conditions are not often encountered, out of an abundance of caution they remain of concern to us. Where children have unsupervised access to the station, or where the station is subject to being moved or tossed around by landscape and equipment maintenance personnel, we feel the BLPE lock should be backed up with a redundant locking device. This increases, to an unacceptable level, the time, labor and frustration associated with servicing this station. For that reason, the moment a more secure station became available, most uses of the BLPE with the RSCS program ceased.

FIG. 5. Right-hand ingress/egress port. This shows the inset in the weighted base that improves rodent acceptance and reduces the risk of port occlusion. Note the elevation of the BLWL currently in use with the RSCS Bait Station, above the weighted base to facilitate drainage of moisture from the station, as well as aiding in airflow, which acts to efficiently dry out the station interior after moisture has been introduced. In this photo, the bait station is elevated 1/8th inch above the weighted base; in other configurations the bait station is elevated as much as 1/2 inch above the weighted base. We are continuing to test these configurations in a variety of environments to determine the optimum elevation for moisture abatement purposes.

The Protecta EVO (unweighted) Landscape (BLUL): Our Second RSCS™ Bait Station…

The basic BLPE was followed by the Protecta EVO unweighted Landscape (BLUL). This device, also still on the market and still in use with the RSCS™ program, is an attractive but lightweight bait box, which in its stock version is easily displaced by animals, wind, and flowing water.

Internally, the BLUL has a low profile that keeps its bait provisions close to the placement surface, on a fixed, non-removeable bait platform. That arrangement makes it highly vulnerable to water infiltration and more difficult to clean.

In its initial design the BLUL used a locking mechanism identical to that of an earlier model, which — for a variety of reasons — made it useless for the RSCS program. Later versions, however, incorporated a trustworthy lock that answers all known objections to the previous design. Ironically, though, the new lock mechanism sometimes locks up much better than it unlocks, particularly in areas subject to dust and dirt contamination.

In many cases, after the BLUL has been exposed to the elements for several months, the lock freezes and cannot be unlocked without requiring the application of considerable force. Manhandling a stubbornly frozen lock on the BLUL adds frustration and time to an already arduous task. In some cases servicing personnel were even afraid the key would break before the lock would open, though in each of those cases patiently working the lock back and forth for a few minutes would eventually free it up. Extensive tests in the EntomoBiotics Inc. laboratory confirmed that this flaw could be remedied by injecting a synthetic lubricating gel into the locking mechanism, preparatory to placement of the station at the client’s site.

Fig. 6. Two of the 30 moisture drainage perforations added to the base of the BLWL station currently in use with the RSCS Bait Station. Moisture inside the bait station is one of the most serious causes of bait rejection. Wet bait is quickly rendered unpalatable. Clearing moisture efficiently from the bait station keeps bait dry and extends the life of each bait placement.

Today, we replace used stations with freshly cleansed, retrofitted, and sanitized stations on each service visit. The used stations are then returned to the lab for cleaning, sanitizing, and modification to meet our latest configuration standards. However, before removing a used station from the client’s site, we open it up and take photos of the interior to document its condition, so the locking mechanism needs to work smoothly under field conditions.

For use with the RSCS program, the BLUL is attached to a weighted base. Bait posts are stabilized, moisture drainage issues are addressed by perforating the station base, and a weatherproof lubricant is applied to the locking mechanism to prevent it from freezing.

Fig. 7. Rear view of RSCS Bait Station in one of its present configurations.

Initially a concrete paver was used to provide a weighted base. Besides being difficult to drill and tap, and impossible to fully resolve associated moisture infiltration issues, the concrete base (a 12″ x 12″ paver) is so heavy that it is difficult to lug from the delivery vehicle to the placement location and, later, from the placement location back to the delivery vehicle. After being placed, the extra weight also makes it difficult to maneuver for servicing purposes.

When the concrete paver was replaced with a wooden base, the weight of the assembly was reduced to an acceptable level for all of the noted purposes. With the wooden base it also becomes practical to add an inset, at each ingress/egress port. This inset helps rodents to find, and encourages them to explore and access the ports. The insets also reduce the risk that, on placement in locations with loose mulch and vegetative matter, the ports would be occluded by the placement surroundings.

Fig 8. Internal arrangement of the modified BLWL used in one of the present RSCS Bait Station configurations.

Initially the wooden base was left in a raw, uncoated condition, allowing it to absorb moisture, warp, and contribute to a high ambient humidity condition, in proximity to the RSCS™-modified BLUL. Coating the wooden base with an impermeable, waterproof coating resolved all those issues.

In cases where RSCS™ stations are placed under cover, and are not subject to rainfall, rising water, or soil-borne infestations of slugs and snails, the RSCS™-modified BLUL works extremely well. Under those circumstances, with the modifications we make to it at the EntomoBiotics Inc. lab, the RSCS™-modified BLUL performs as well as any rodent bait station can be expected.

In fact, because weight is not as big a factor in many of those placements, it is even easier to service than its weightier version, the RSCS™-modified BLWL, which is described  below. For that reason, we continue to use the RSCS™-modified BLUL in placements where they have been proven to perform well.

The Protecta EVO Weighted Landscape (BLWL): Our Current RSCS™ Bait Station…

Next came the Protecta EVO Weighted Landscape (BLWL), a highly modified version of which is presently being used in RSCS™ program placements where high water conditions are likely, unusual moisture conditions occur frequently, and/or a significant risk exists of insect and/or slug and snail incursions. As needed, this new station is automatically retrofitted into existing RSCS™ program accounts where its special qualities make it more suitable than configurations with the BLUL.

Like the original BLPE, the BLWL has an interior concrete block that helps keep it in place; like the latest version of the BLUL, the BLWL has an attractive appearance that blends into most landscapes.

Fig. 9. Close-up view of rodent ingress/egress port and ramp to the bait platform in the modified BLWL used in one of its RSCS Bait Station configurations.

Externally, the BLWL appears identical to the BLUL but, unlike the BLUL, the bait platform in the BLWL is removable, facilitating a more efficient cleansing and servicing of the station. The BLWL incorporates the same trustworthy locking mechanism as that of the BLUL, but remains subject to freezing after being placed in service if it is not lubricated beforehand.

Fig. 10. Underside view of the base of one of the RSCS Bait Station configurations.

Like the BLPE, the internal architecture of the BLWL station interior elevates the bait platform, lessening the risk that rising water will contaminate the station contents.

Compared with the BLPE (our first RSCS™ bait station), the BLWL weighs slightly less, and the bait platform is not elevated quite as high.

To use the BLWL in the RSCS™ program, it is first attached to a coated wooden base. That may seem redundant, since the bait box comes from Bell Labs already weighted. However, as was observed with the BLPE, the weight of the internal concrete block (one ounce less than that of the BLPE) is not always sufficient, alone, to keep it in place at the most sensitive sites where it is installed.

With the added base the total weight of the assembly exceeds that of the original BLPE standard by between 4 and 5 pounds, making its placements even more stable than those of the BLPE standard. This weight, which is about 10 pounds less than that of the BLUL attached to a 12×12 concrete paver, has proven acceptable in all respects during field trials all over Texas.

Fig. 11. The RSCS Bait Station with a security seal affixed over the locking mechanism keyway of the BLWL presently in use.

The coated wooden base also elevates the bait platform — which was lower than that of the BLPE — to a height one-inch higher than the standard established by the BLPE, further lessening the risk of contamination from rising water.

As with the base used with the RSCS™-modified BLUL, the inset architecture of the added base uniquely encourages foraging rodents to venture into the bait cavity, speeding station acceptance, bait consumption, and — by extension — rodent extermination.

Fig. 12. Closeup view of Security Seal over the locking mechanism keyway for the BLWL presently used with the RSCS Bait Station.

As with all previous stations, the bait posts are permanently affixed to the bait platform to keep them in place during cleaning and reprovisioning. Like the stock concrete block of the BLPE, the concrete block of the stock BLWL is unsealed, allowing the concrete to absorb moisture; if the concrete is not sealed, this moisture builds up during high-water events, and later evaporates slowly into the interior of the stock BLWL, creating an unfavorable, high humidity environment that encourages invasions of slugs and snails, and leads to overgrowths of mold and mildew.

For use with the RSCS program, the stock concrete block is coated with a sealant to prevent water absorption, and to allow its surfaces to be coated with long-lasting pesticides that reduce or eliminate insect activity within the station.

Fig. 13. Placement of the RSCS™-modified BLWL often requires the addition of a concrete pad that elevates the device above the surrounding grade, and stabilizes the underlying soil base. This placement, at a restaurant in north Texas, is in an area where heavy streams of water occur unexpectedly. Erosion had created a depression here that rodents exploited to gain access to the restaurant’s outer wall. Once the depression was filled, a 1.5 x 1.5-ft concrete pad was added as a permanent base.

The RSCS™-modified BLWL is also elevated above the coated wooden base, to aid further in draining and evaporating moisture from the station cavity. The base of the RSCS™-modified BLWL station is also perforated with 31 small drain ports, to aid in evacuating all introduced moisture from the station as quickly as possible, and to improve airflow within the bait feeding cavity, keeping humidity as low as possible.

To discourage tampering by individuals who may have come into possession of a key to the stations’ locking mechanisms, and to prevent the introduction of moisture into the bait station via the open keyway port, a security seal is placed over the lock’s keyway after the bait station has been cleansed and provisioned with fresh bait.

This seal is serialized, and its serial number can easily be recorded by service personnel using smart phone imagery. If the seal is removed or tampered with while the station is deployed at a client site, portions of the seal’s colored adhesive detach, providing a positive indication that tampering has occurred.

Fig. 14. RSCS informative label.

A label is attached to the forward horizontal surface of the RSCS station base to facilitate informing curious passersby about its purpose.

This label includes QR encoding so that those with a smart phone may image the QR block with their smart phone camera and be immediately linked to Internet content describing the purpose and function of the station and the RSCS program.

More To Come… 


— Questions? Comments? Corrections? e-mail jerry.cates@entomobiotics.com. You may also leave a comment in the space provided below.

 

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