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Can Bags Full of Water Really Repel Flies?

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Now! Question. Do pennies in a zip lock bag of water actually keep flies and mosquitoes away? Is this a proven natural method of repelling pests?
    ----Skip in Edmond, OK
Answer. Some of you may remember this question being asked in a recent phone call on the show—and my response that I had never heard of such a thing, and could not imagine how such a trick would actually work. Well, many of you expressed interest, and then our unparalleled unpaid fact finding fanatic Charles Younger sent me a link to an article about this very topic on Snopes dot com—the famous myth busting (or, in some cases, myth confirming) website.

Snopes ruled it neither true nor false; instead letting it fall into their weasely 'undetermined' category. They note that the rumor to which Skip refers—about using some type of hanging plastic bag containing water to repel flies—is very prevalent down South, but in most variations the bags contain only water. A lesser percentage of the time, the bag user is instructed to add either a specific number of pennies (generally four), a single penny, or bits of shredded tinfoil to the water in the bags. Presumably the distortion of the water, the flashes of light from the shiny things and the possibility of seeing their own reflection in a distorted manner frightens or confuses the flies.

The Snopes article—posted on the site in August of last year and credited to Barbara Mikkelson—goes on to mention that a researcher in North Carolina actually tested the premise scientifically in a building where chicken eggs were sorted and readied for market. That researcher, Mike Stringham, an entomologist at North Carolina State University, was able to fill me in on the details.

Mike explained that during his many years on the job, the topic of hanging water filled bags to repel flies in barnyard and packing situations would come up every once in a while, with many people swearing by its effectiveness. Oddly, he explains, in one version of the 'secret origin' of this story, the idea begins with a fisherman who noticed a lack of biting flies attacking him on his boat after he stacked some water-filled plastic bags containing live fish on top of his cooler.

"It wasn't long before stacked bags filled with fish and water repelling biting flies in a boat became hanging bags of water alone repelling flies in general," explains Mike.

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