Some ways back, I dipped my toe briefly into the sludgy pool of grandiose claims and unsupported hogwash that makes up the field of ‘ultrasonic’ or ‘electronic’ pest eradication. A few days ago Faithful Acowlyte Matthew reminded me that I’ve been meaning to revisit this daft corner of Wooville when he sent me this recent offering from Pest Control Peddlers Pestrol.

As if they’re still living in the ’60s, Pestrol seems to think that it’s impressive to point out that their product, Pestrol Rodent Free is ‘seen on TV’. In their FAQ they are equally eager to boast that it’s ‘advertised on talkback radio Australia wide’ which I gather is intended to imply something other than ‘we paid some irritating radio personality to advertise it’. Are people so stupid that these kinds of vapid endorsements get them reaching for their wallets? But silly me – I guess that anyone with a brain is not the main market for this product, as we shall see.

This ‘latest technology’ that the Pestrol seems so overjoyed to introduce is that of ultrasonics. Since ultrasonic devices have been round for decades, this seems rather a lot less impressive than if they’d said it used, oh, quantum tunneling or carbon nanotubes, two other technologies that would be just as effective at repelling rodents as ultrasonics (ie, not at all, if you haven’t guessed) and are a lot more current and cool sounding. I might even be tempted to buy a rodent repelling device that claimed to use quantum tunneling. At least it wouldn’t be quite as easy to completely ridicule as one using ultrasonics.

The Pestrol Rodent Free technique emits a disorienting pulse that startles and frightens away insects and rodents from your home or office.

O-k-a-a-a-y… and the science to support the idea that that rodents and insects don’t like those ‘disorienting’ ultrasonics pulses comes from… where… exactly? What’s that you say? You heard it from a friend of a friend?

The fact is, evidence for ultrasound being an effective deterrent against rodents is slim. It is vaguely possible that the noise irritates them somewhat, but since rats will repeatedly endure full electric shocks to get at human food, it is unlikely that a slightly bothersome noise is going to have much of an effect.

The Pestrol Rodent Free will need to be plugged into a power point approximately 0.2 metres from floor level in order for the ultrasonic to run along the ground, living rooms and hall ways.

Now, are you forming a picture in your minds, dear Acowlytes, of ultrasonics ‘running along the ground’ through your house? I know I am. Because everyone knows that sound (ultrasonics are nothing more than high frequency sound waves) behaves just like that – seeping along at floor level. Even if ultrasound did work, it would not matter one whit where in the room you put the device as long as it was relatively unobstructed.

But let’s be fair. Pestrol Rodent Free doesn’t rely solely on ultrasonics. No way José.

Pestrol Rodent Free combines electromagnetic, ultrasonic and ionic technologies to help free your home of rats, mice and aids with the control of cockroaches.

Yes friends, Pestrol Rodent Free deploys a veritable Holy Trinity of implausible techniques to keep your home pest-free. There’s our old friend ‘electromagnetism’ that well-known bane of pests of all kinds, and a new player in the game: ionic technology.

Animals are naturally sensitive to negative ions.1 Long before a lightning storm, insects and rodents sense a change in the environment and look for protection away from the storm.

So let’s see – the negative ions are supposed to simulate a thunderstorm so the rodents go looking for shelter… in your house. Good one Pestrol!

This is a shining example of what I call ‘selective woo’. Elsewhere you will find gadgets being peddled under the claim that ‘negative ions’ are actually beneficial for the very reason that rats and cockroaches don’t like them. In other words, the arbitrary decision by humans to decide something is a pest is all it takes to turn the power of ions from desirable to repulsive. Amazing!

Selective woo comes into play with other aspects of the Pestrol Rodent Free, too. The makers claim that it is effective against rodents and insects and even possums (which in this country are marsupials), and yet will not effect your pets. How can this possibly be? Well:

Pestrol Rodent Free has been used for many years by thousands of satisfied customers in Australia and NZ. Will not affect dogs, cats, birds, or fish as they have a different genetic structure to rodents and cockroaches

Ah. It’s the genetic structure. Of course! Rodents, as any student of biology surely knows, are much more closely related to cockroaches than they are to cats and dogs or other mammals. Or marsupials. Or birds or fish.

This is, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, complete and utter claptrap. Elsewhere you will find that these kinds of devices are supposedly effective against deer, rabbits, skunks, squirrels, bats, foxes, raccoons, chipmunks and armadillos. And, paradoxically it would seem, cats and dogs as well, should you find them vexatious rather than cute and fluffy. In fact, the chief benefit of Pestrol Rodent Free-style devices seems to be that they will repel anything that you decide you don’t want hanging around, and won’t affect anything else! I wonder if it is effective against people selling pseudoscientific crap?

‘But Reverend,’ I hear you interrupting ‘there’s a 30 Day Money Back Guarantee! It says there in BIG WRITING. How could they possibly offer that if there wasn’t anything to it?!’

Aha, young Acowlyte, that’s another trick to get you to part with your hard-earned cash (All $119.00 frigging dollars of it in this case). You sure can get your money back if you return your Pestrol Rodent Free within the 30 days specified… but what’s this in the FAQ?

How do I know if my Pestrol Rodent Free is working?

You may see increased activity as rodents and cockroaches are forced from their hiding places. Often it can take up to 3 weeks to remove rodents. Cockroaches may take longer as eggs can lay dormant for many months before they hatch.

Right. So you may not see the desired effect from the device for 21 whole days.2 Factor in a week or so for postage and there goes your money back guarantee. You’ll certainly have blown your cash if you wait around ‘for many months’ to see if the Pestrol works on cockroaches.

Lest there is any lingering hesitation in your minds, dear Cowmrades, that the Pestrol Rodent Free might still have some slim remaining shred of credibility, let me quote from a US Federal Trade Commission finding on similar devices:

Between 1985 and 1997, the FTC brought law enforcement actions against six companies that allegedly made false and unsubstantiated claims about the effectiveness of ultrasonic devices in controlling rodent and insect infestations. Each of those cases was resolved by consent order. In those prior actions, the FTC challenged the following types of claims:

• Eliminates rodent infestations;
• Repels insects;
• Serves as an effective alternative to conventional pest-control products;
• Increases or assists the effectiveness of other pest-control methods;
• Eliminates fleas on dogs or cats; and
• Scientific tests prove product effectiveness.

Prior FTC complaints alleged that any reaction by rodents to ultrasound would be temporary at best because rodents become accustomed to ultrasound and will return to their nesting or feeding areas even in the presence of an ultrasonic device. Furthermore, previous FTC complaints alleged that ultrasound devices do not control insects.

These findings were handed down over a decade ago and yet, performing a Searchâ„¢ for ‘ultrasonic pest repeller’ returns literally hundreds of thousands of hits, the first few umpteen thousand pages apparently for people selling the damned things.

Oh well. I do need some cash. What the hell.

  1. Who says so? And in what way? This claim means absolutely NOTHING in this context. []
  2. Indeed, you may see INCREASED rodent activity – the exact opposite of the desired outcome – in the first 3 weeks of use! []