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Repellents, Do They Really Work, Fact or Fiction for Wildlife Control

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Repellents for Animal Damage Control

Do They REALLY Work???

One of the most common questions I receive goes like this, "I am having a problem with such and such an animal doing xyz. I don't want to hurt him, I just want him to go away. Is there anything I can spray that will keep him away from my property." I often respond, "The short answer is no."

Let me take this opportunity to explain why repellents don't work the way people want them too.

 The first problem with repellents is that free roaming mammals can simply walk past a smell that disturbs them. Think of all the times you have smelled bad and repulsive odors. Did it stop you from going where you needed to go? Probably not. Now consider it from an animal's point of view. He has a choice. Continue to eat and smell a bad smell or not smell a bad smell and starve. Which path do you think he will take?

The second problem lies with familiarity. Let's say theoretically you find a repellent that does drive the animals away from your property. (We would call this a perimeter repellent). Chances are it would work on the principle of fear of a predator. For example, if you used coyote urine you may reduce woodchuck damage because coyotes eat woodchucks. The problem however is that over time the woodchuck will realize that he is smelling coyotes but he doesn't see them. Or if there are actually coyotes around, then he has the choice of getting eaten or starve.

A third problem with repellents is how often people attribute effectiveness to them when in fact the repellent didn't work at all. Too many people believe that if they do X and Y happens then they assume that X caused Y. Here is the problem with that. Let's assume you have a skunk under your deck. You listen to someone who says through moth balls at the entrance. You do. Two days later you discover the skunk is in fact gone. Therefore you assume that the mothballs drove the skunk away. The problem is that you didn't notice that your skunk got hit by a car two streets away from your house. The mothballs had nothing to do with his removal. I am sure you can consider other scenarios.

There is no such thing as an effective bat repellent. Period. People will always try to sell you products, and magic cure-alls. Some products work, and some don't. In the field of wildlife control, you'll often find more bogus products than effective ones. Bats are mammals. They are similar to you and I. There is no magic scent or smell or chemical or poison that will deter them. The internet is full of bat deterrent products, but none of them work. Some of these products include fox or coyote urine, which is a nice idea in theory, but it isn't effective. Other products are simply made of napthalene - moth balls - which some companies sell as an end-all be-all in wildlife repellant. Sorry, it simply doesn't work. I've seen people dump OVER 50 POUNDS of mothballs in an attic where bats are living, and they don't care in the slightest. They keep using the area. Devices such as ultrasonic sound emitters that make a high-pitched noise are completely useless. I've been to so many properties over the years in which people have spent time and money on silly gimmicks like these, and then they hire a real bat control expert, and the problem is correctly taken care of.

One of the reasons why people continue to think that repellents will solve their animal damage problems lies in their faith in the Chemical industry. Chemistry has solved a number of problems in America and since animals use their noses a lot, why couldn't a smell keep animals away? As I said earlier, repellents rarely work the way people think they work. Most repellents are used in Agriculture. Here farmers have hundreds of acres. If they can reduce crop damage by 10% through the use of a repellent then they can save a substantial amount of money. The problem is that urbanites (including so called suburban people) require that the damage stop completely. So even when a repellent has been shown to work, it only works in an agricultural setting where the standards of success are substantially less than 100%.

Yet another problem with repellents lies in the restrictions surrounding their use. For example, you shouldn't use a taste repellent on plants you are planning to eat. You can use them on plants that you don't eat to stop/reduce animal browsing, but if you spray them on food you plan to eat, be careful. If you notice that your mouth is getting hot then you know you sprayed the wrong plants.

Still another difficulty with repellents is that they wash off in the rain. While there still may be some residue left on the plant, it may not be enough to stop browsing. Thus you will need to continue to reapply repellents after a rainfall. This is a task that many property owners don't wish to do. Even if they don't wash off, if new growth appears on the plants it will be repellent free. Thus you will need to reapply to the plant to make sure that new growth is covered. This is one of the reasons why people don't get desired results with deer repellents on their bushes. They forget to keep adding the repellent after their bush grows.

I hope this gives you some insight on why repellents don't work the way people expect them to. While repellents have a place in animal damage control, one needs to use these chemicals in certain specific situations. They are not a cure all.


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