I don’t spend a lot of time wondering what the average entomologist is thinking from one minute to the next, and I doubt if entomologists spend much time wondering about my thoughts. But recently I did see something in the paper that got me to thinking about people who think about bugs.

Only a state entomologist could somehow find a link between bitter-cold winter mornings and deep red, fresh, tasty, sun-ripened summer tomatoes. I suppose I could make the same link if I was willing to spend the time thinking about it that the average entomologist does, but I don’t have time for such thoughts.

To be honest, I have no idea how many entomologists we have working for us and against the bugs at this time in our development. I also have no clue as to how many entomologists we really need, for that matter. But the article I read said that one of our state’s entomologists is concerned that the above-average temperatures we experienced earlier this winter could lead to an upsurge in the tomato bug population come spring. Even the recent spate of bone-chilling temperatures may not be enough to help save this summer’s tomato crop from these little buggers that can eat your average tomato plant right down to the ground and then move on to another.

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. Future BLTs and spaghetti dinners could be at risk because of the mild early winter-weather that most of us forgot about a long time ago.

But those who study bugs understand that these vile creatures have been known to wolf down not just tomato plans, but also eggplants, pepper and potato plants, which means that our fine Italian restaurants could also be at risk and may be reduced to serving PB & J sandwiches next summer. The consequences could be catastrophic.

An expert who didn’t want to be identified said 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 off as many of the little critters as possible. I know it sounds cruel, but it’s the protection of our tomatoes we’re talking about here, people.

Early this winter, before I learned all this, I was selfishly thinking only of myself and all the money I was saving on heating oil. So, as it again 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 cold is bad for larval insects.

And what’s bad for larval insects is good for future tomatoes and pizza lovers throughout Maine.

John McDonald is the author of five books on Maine, including “John McDonald’s Maine Trivia: A User’s Guide to Useless Information.” Contact him at [email protected]


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