The carnage was immediate. Corey slapped angrily at her face, her arms, her backside. She uttered a weak substitute for profanity and waved at the air before her face. But the swarm was not thwarted and the frenzy of slaps and mild cussing continued.

“My God! There’s a mosquito in my ear! They’re all over me!”


I celebrated this mosquito attack not because I found this feast upon my wife amusing — as far as comedic value, it rose no higher than Steven Wright stand-up near the end of his career.

No, I was delighted in the savagery because Corey was trying out a new device called The Mosquito Annoyer that was supposed to chase the blood-suckers away with a high-pitched whine. Corey was optimistic about the gizmo when we tried it out at the Pine Tree State Arboretum, a notoriously buggy wilderness in Augusta.

I had my doubts.

“They’re tearing me apart!” she screamed at last, before flagellating herself some more and breaking into a run.

Just beautiful. I deemed that the ultimate mark of failure for the tiny Mosquito Annoyer and its crazy claims.

This little box emits the sound of the “horny male” mosquito, which she now has great disdain for. So, instead of sticking around to hear this guy’s cat calls and pick-up lines, she goes elsewhere. Our testing found it to be very effective.

Skin-sucking mosquitoes, marvels of evolution, are going to flee at the sound of a man-made device that tries to mimic an annoying male of the species? Right. I tell you what, my itchy friends. I lost faith in that device when I saw a mosquito land on it and do what appeared to be a happy little dance.

More than 3,500 varieties of mosquitoes have buzzed and sucked their way around the planet for 30 million years. I’m pretty sure they laugh at this product while taking healthy gulps of your blood. In our quest to find the best non-lotion, non-spray bug deterrent in a portable, personal size , this contraption did not score well.

On the scale of 1 to 5 proboscises (5 being the best), I give The Mosquito Annoyer (available at L.L. Bean) a 1.

Off Clip-On

Things were no better the following afternoon next to a stagnant pond at Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary in Lewiston. Here, the lovely and talented photographer Amber Waterman had agreed to be bug bait.

Ten minutes into the experiment, the festival of slapping and swearing was on again.

“Son of a… they’re all over me.”


“They’re out for blood!”


When Amber gets to slapping bugs, it seems she is out to punish as well as eliminate the fiendish mosquitoes. And it was disconcerting here because in her hand, the photographer held an Off Clip-On, a gadget with a small fan to circulate the propellant.

“I’m standing right over it and the mosquitoes are attacking,” she said. “For this thing to work, you would basically need to slap the bugs with it. You’d need to use it like a light saber.”

After allowing a few minutes for the fan to spread its bug juice, it seemed there were fewer mosquitoes floating around the increasingly irritated photographer. We agreed to give it extra marks for at least diminishing the level of attack when an interesting thing happened.

A mosquito landed on Amber’s butt, not six inches away from the device which was now clipped onto a belt loop. While it sucked blood out of her tender area, Amber switched lenses and handed the camera to me so I could document the atrocity.

“Hurry up,” she said, more annoyed still. “I’m not taking much more for the team.”

Click, click, click. And then:


On the scale of 1 to 5 buckets of blood, we give the “Off Clip-On,” (under $10 at Wal-Mart) a 2.

ThermaCell Mosquito Repellent

On the ThermaCell Mosquito Repellent box are photos of a lovely couple sitting before a tent, a nice older lady gardening and a hunter crouched over a dead buck. Each of them is shown smiling and apparently free from the menace of mosquitoes.

Such nice people. I had a good feeling from the start.

The ThermaCell is the most costly of the items we tried. At $25, you want a product to be big and mean-looking and this one is. A butane cartridge slides into the bottom for fuel. Once started, the foot-long gizmo heats up a grill under which sits a pad soaked in repellent. After a few minutes, the grill is hot and visible vapor appears.

And like that vapor, suddenly Amber’s mood was lifting.

“I have to say,” she said, “that there are a lot less bugs around. Before you turned that thing on, they were treating me like Thanksgiving dinner.”

The instructions on the ThermaCell box advise you to allow 10 to 30 minutes for the repellent to spread across a 225-square-foot area. Amber and I were sitting perhaps eight feet apart (I was afraid she might eventually punch me in the eye for dragging her out here) and almost immediately, we were both bug-free.

We gave it 5 minutes and then 10. With the ThermaCell running silently, there was a marked decrease in the number of insects we could see. The slapping and swearing came to a halt. So powerful was the device, I had to shut it off, stuff it into a backpack and leave it on the path so that we could test out other products.

On the scale of 1-to-5 angry welts on Amber’s right buttock, I gave the ThermaCell a 5. Amber rated it a 4.5.

Bug-warding wrist bands

Ultimately, it seems when it comes to bug gadgets, you get what you pay for.

The ThermaCell is effective enough to be a bargain if you spend a lot of time hanging around outdoors. The Off Clip-On might thin the clouds of mosquitoes enough to give you a fighting chance if you’re out in the garden for an hour.

The wrist bands you can buy anywhere? Amber and I are not fans.

The “Bug BAM!” did seem to keep mosquitoes away, but only in the immediate area around the wrist on which its worn. For that minimal protection, you get to spend your time in a cloying haze of reeking repellent.

“Gack!” Amber said within seconds of sliding it onto her wrist. “It’s seriously nauseating. And a mosquito just landed on my arm right next to the band.”


The “Bug Off” wrist band has the same ingredients as “Bug BAM!” and yet seemed even less effective. After a few moments with it on her wrist, Amber was surrounded again by an adoring swarm.

“I swear,” she said. “it seems to be attracting them.”

SLAP! SLAP! And a SLAP for good measure.

And that was it for our buggy excursion. Amber learned a few things about bug repellent gizmos to use on her hikes, kayak adventures, hot tub parties, etc. I learned very little because bugs don’t find me appetizing and so I need not seek relief in the form of the latest inventions.

We got out of the woods then and it couldn’t have happened soon enough. Amber, now a terrain map of mosquito bites, had taken to slapping me instead of herself. And it’s funny because there wasn’t a single mosquito on me as the beating commenced.


Off Clip-On: Under 10 bucks, at Wal-Mart. One refill and batteries included. Can be clipped to the belt or set on a flat surface. Main ingredient: metofluthrin.

ThermaCELL: $25, at Home Depot. Comes with one butane cartridge and 3 repellent mats. No clip-on or other attachment, but claims to repel mosquitoes and black flies for 225 square feet. Main ingredient: d-cis/transallethrin.

Bug BAM! wristband: Under 5 bucks for one, at various stores. Claims to repel mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and other biting insects. Main ingredients: citronella, geranium and lemongrass oils.

Bug Off: Under 5 bucks for three bands, at various stores. Glow in the dark so you won’t lose your wrist! Main ingredients: citronella, geranium and lemongrass oils.

Tom Slivinski, the career cop, is a man among men.

When he’s not crushing crime, he’s climbing a mountain. Or hiking the trails. Or biking or fishing or camping or boating.

He does other things out in the woods, this beast of the wilderness, but were he to tell me about them, he would have to bring me into the jungle of Rangeley and leave me there.

Tom Slivinski knows the enemy. On the streets, it’s the killers, drug dealers and muggers. In the woods, it’s the mosquitoes and black flies.

His advice on combating buggery has more to do with what you don’t use rather than what you do.

“When you’re going to be out there, don’t use deodorant. Don’t use smelly soaps or shampoos,” he says in what sounds like a command. “Don’t use mousse or gel or whatever it is you put on that pretty coif of yours.”

A big fan of Dr. Bronner’s, is Tom Slivinski. That is the name of an all-purpose soap that can be used in place of deodorant, in place of shampoo, in place of — if you believe the old literature on the product — a douche.

Dr. Bronner’s will clean you up without leaving you fragranced in a way that bugs just love. It smells faintly of peppermint, which is a known turn-off for bugs. Remove the sweet scents, Uncle Tom says, and half your battle with pestilence is won.

Amber Waterman, the intrepid photographer, uses Deep Woods Off when she’s going to be in the wilderness for a while. Tom swears by Ben’s (the one in the orange can or bottle) and seldom needs anything more. One tip when using Ben’s, he says: Make sure to keep it off any Gortex or similar clothing because Ben’s is powerful enough to cause damage.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

“You figure anything that can melt plastic is going to keep the bugs away,” Tom says.

He hasn’t tried any of the non-liquid gadgets because change is not very Tom-like. But he has heard good things about the ThermaCell (see main story) from some of his machismo friends.

“They go out deep into the Allagash where the bugs are always thick,” Tom says. “They grab one of the butane-fueled devices and it keeps the bugs off them.”

If you see Uncle Tom Slivinski out in the woods, say hello for me. If he yells at you, at least you can rest assured that it’s not because he is being bugged by bugs. 

It’s just his nature.

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