I don’t spend a lot of time wondering what the average entomologist (bug expert) is thinking from one minute to the next. And I’d be willing to bet a week’s pay you don’t spend much time either, unless you’re somehow involved, one-way or another, with an entomologist. Although I’m not a gambler, I’d be willing to bet that entomologists don’t spend much time wondering about our thoughts. But recently I did see something in the paper that got me to thinking about just what entomologists are thinking – and doing.

Only a serious state entomologist could somehow find a link between brisk winter mornings and fresh, tasty, sun-ripened summer tomatoes. I suppose I could make the same link, if I were willing to spend the time thinking about it, but I don’t have the time right now.To be honest, I have no idea how many entomologists we have among us in Maine at this time in our development, or how many entomologists we really need, for that matter. But this article I read the other day said that one of our state’s entomologists is concerned that the above- average temperatures we’ve experienced this winter could lead to an upsurge in the population of the dreaded tomato bug. Even the recent spate of chilly temperatures may not be enough to rescue this summer’s tomato crop from these little tomato-chomping buggers that can eat your average tomato plant right down to the ground and then move on for more.

These are the kinds of things that entomologists at the Maine Forest Service think about at the department’s Insect and Disease Lab in Augusta. I’m sure glad someone is thinking about protecting next summer’s tomato crop because I’m quite fond of tomatoes, but I’m not giving the subject much thought at this time of year.This could mean that future BLTs and spaghetti dinners may be at risk because of the mild early winter weather. These tomato bugs have been known to wolf down eggplants, peppers and potato plants, as well, which means that our fine Italian restaurants could be at serious risk.

The consequences could be staggering. Imagine a world without cacciatori dishes, no parmesan dishes, no Manhattan clam chowder. Well, that wouldn’t be too bad.Experts in the bug world say that it’s best to have cold temperatures followed by a January thaw, so these bugs in their larval stage will start to stir and think spring has arrived. Then they need to be hit with a real bitter-cold, deep freeze to knock as many of the little critters off as possible. I know it sounds rough, but it’s the protection of our tomatoes we’re talking about here.

Before I learned all this I was selfishly thinking only of myself and all the money I was saving this winter on heating oil. Now I realize that the homegrown tomatoes that are so much a part of my summer experience could be eaten out of existence by critters that our mild weather is coddling.

So, as it turns bitter cold outside and you turn up your thermostat, pile more quilts on the bed and throw a few more logs in the auxiliary woodstove to try and stay warm, start thinking like an entomologist. Remember that the bitter cold is bad for larval insects and what’s bad for larval insects is good for fresh tomatoes – and fine Italian restaurants throughout Maine.

John McDonald is the author of “A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar,” “Down the road a piece,” “The Maine Dictionary” and “Nothin’ but Puffins.” Contact him at [email protected]

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