Sounding and Resounding Repellents

Sounding and Resounding Repellents

For the last few weeks, my family has been experiencing landline telephone problems. Yes, believe it or not, in this age of mobile phones, we still have landline telephones at our house. While this may seem like outdated technology, it should be noted that when we experienced crises, such as earthquakes and national attacks in the region, mobile phone communication towers were overloaded, such that no calls through mobile phones went through. Yet our landlines kept us in touch with family and friends. Also, our telephone lines are copper wire as opposed to fiber optics. While this may be a bit slower and older technology, copper wire communications are regulated and they also provide service in emergencies. For example, in the event of an electricity outage, our landlines and security system continue to have telephone service, while fiber optic lines no longer operate (unless an additional battery backup is purchased which will provide only a few additional hours of service during a power blackout). If the local telephone company achieves its goal however, these copper wires may soon become totally obsolete. Yet as noted earlier, for the last three weeks, our telephone services have experienced periodic interruptions. The first problem was due to failing copper wiring through a telephone box which had been infested with an abandoned hornet nest. Another telephone wire enclosure had been infested with a deserted bird nest. In each case, the wiring appeared to have been compromised by the infestations, causing our telephone problems and requiring rewiring.

So what to do to protect the telephone connections? I had heard about insect and animal Infestations this month from a few friends, yet then I realised I was also experiencing similar infestation problems. I started wondering how to control these “space invaders” in the telephone poles above and how to do so in the most humane and sustainable means possible.

Of course, there are extermination approaches which use poisons, pain, and power surges to get rid of these pests, yet these do not sound humane and are not practical for a telephone box high above the ground. Also, these approaches can leave the bodies of insects and rodents to decay within enclosed spaces, which could also attract additional parasites to feast upon the bodies, generate odors as things rot, and introduce additional potential health hazards. Accordingly, I wanted to explore the possible technological solution of other sound-based repellents as a more sustainable solution. Yet are they effective and humane?

There appear to be sonic, ultrasonic, electromagnetic, physical vibration, and shock devices advertised as repellents. I guess I knew this, but it was helpful to read about the different categories and background information.

Sonic devices are basically noise generators, primarily for birds or animals that respond to such sounds like “explosive charges, recorded distress alarm bird sounds, or electronically mimicked bird sounds.” Basically, these elicit a “danger” response and there can even be visual repellents like the old Wizard of Oz scarecrow in the field. But of course, sonic repellents would be too distracting if the noise is also constantly heard by humans.

The ultrasonic approach is also “sound” based, but generally beyond the frequency of human hearing. These devices are “manufactured and marketed as electronic pest control “tools” that can prevent rodent invasions, repel rodents in existing infestations, or enhance conventional rodent control methods (e. g., baiting and trapping) by influencing rodent movements to improve efficacy in an “integrated” approach.” The effectiveness is sometimes limited to the proximity from the ultrasonic producer and can be absorbed by flexible/pliable materials.

Electromagnetic, vibrational, and electroshock devices are of limited proven efficacy for repelling rodents and insects.

Early technology using sonic and ultrasonic stimuli to repel or control rodents was purportedly partially based on an audiogenic seizure response. Yet I also read that sensitivity to such approaches decreased with the age of the rodent. So young rodents would be repelled but older ones would be fine? It made me think of how my hearing is starting to decrease as I get older, so my telephone pole would still be the perfect retirement home for older rodents and pests? Fortunately, the ill effects of these devices only result if the rodents remain vulnerable and exposed to continuous exposure to these stimuli in an enclosed space, but they can also migrate away and will not experience any effects. Also, the prolonged effectiveness is based on the frequency used, the age of the animal, and the length of exposure, so it sounded like rodents might habituate to the sound and be immune to its effects. As I read further, the literature noted that the mechanisms of action for ultrasonic rodent repellency with commercially manufactured devices have been based on “causing pain, interference with communication, disorientation, or fear-inducing danger signals.” So the ultrasonic interference and disorientation may be a nonpoisonous way of repelling birds and insects from certain areas and even telephone poles, but there may be unintended consequences. And of course, they do use electricity, so there is a carbon cost associated with them as well.

It has been noted such devices do not need to be registered or certified, but in the States they do need to meet the requirements of the “Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (40 CFR 162.10 ) and the Fair Trade Act, under the EPA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), respectively, as well as local government oversight.

In many ways, the ultrasonic repellent sounds workable to relocate insects, birds, and rodents away from the telephone poles, yet we live in an integrated global community and so there may be unintended consequences as alluded to above. For example, a Swiss study cell phones affected bees. When the cell phones were near or in hives, the bees sensed the signals transmitted when the phones rang, and emitted heavy buzzing noise during the calls which signaled to leave the hive, and confuses the bees and caused them to fly erratically. Basically, the signals reportedly cause the bees to become lost and disoriented.

So even with the availability of technological advances, it appears we must continue to be cautious when adopting them because our lack of “perfect” knowledge limits our understanding of the gestalt and interdependencies of actions and reactions in a global community including all living things.

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3 Responses to Sounding and Resounding Repellents

  1. rbp046 says:

    I thought your example of the interference caused to the bee’s habitat from mobile phones was particularly interesting. I don’t believe that we can ever have perfect knowledge. We can strive for it but we can’t really expect to know everything about anything to such a degree that we can be certain about every cause and effect. The best we can hope for is that we have been both diligent and objective in collecting as many facts and data as possible, to enable us to make decisions that mitigate the risk of disruption or damage to other species or our own habitats. You might like the example of the impact that radio frequencies and microwaves can have on bats which also have the ability to hear at different frequencies from Humans. The Bat Conservation Trust ( has a short factsheet which sets out the potential impact of the same and some precautionary advice as follows;
    • The erection of masts should be carefully considered, locating the mast on a part of the building as far from known roosting locations and flight paths as possible
    • Advice should be sought to ensure that the obstruction of any access points, or damage of any roosts is avoided
    • Bat populations within the buildings should be surveyed on an annual basis to monitor any potential impacts
    I’m not sure how practical some of these precautions really are but they could potentially also be applied to other species to avoid disruption.

    • hotelchocam says:

      Yes, you’re right that the best we can hope for is that we have been both diligent and objective in collecting as many facts and data as possible, thus enabling us to make the decisions that mitigate the risk of disruption or damage to other species or our own habitats. But of course, we are only human and must acknowledge our limitations. Sadly, our limitations can potentially cvause dire ramifications. However, we need to balance this in that it could cause us to fall into analysis paralysis and never move forward. And of course, we are also sometimes limited by time and urgency. For example, if we are under imminent attack by killer bees, I will confess that I may be unlikely to consider being all that diligent and objective before being stung. Yet in balance, we need to be certain that our urgency is not the result of our lack of planning or ignorance which may have brought the emergency to bear. So it seems like the bottom line is that we need to invest the time to fully consider even the simple decisions with the appropriate diligence and objectivity in order to guard against unintended consequences down the line.

  2. My climate change insurance policy says:

    Great post. For those in countries which are renewing their cable systems many people dont realize that when the power goes out so will their landline. Such as Australia’s NBN – it is easily overcome with a back up battery but people arent aware. And if you are caught in an emergency it is better to text than call as it is easier on the network to process aparently.

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