[WATCH] From The Fringe | The Pest Exterminator

Strictly not for the squeamish... would you do his job? Arnold Sciberras is the Pest Exterminator 

Why did you become a pest controller?

It was never my intention to become a pest controller, as it came by accident. Basically, it was my automatic call. I was studying natural environments, entomology and research into insects. This is still my area of interest to this day and then a company had asked me to identify some insects for them, and for a period I had to check out how these things work here. I discovered that in Malta there is no professional approach, and how much need there was to educate the public. Since I come from a conservatory background, I felt the need to be a protector of those species, rather than eradicate. I felt the need to save the species that found their way into people’s homes. 

Isn’t being a pest controller one of the worst kind of jobs to have?

For me, it’s the best job that I could have, as it opens the door to what I am looking for in life. First of all, I had to invent a niche job myself. I couldn’t get myself to study for a job that I had no interest in. This opened up opportunities for me, that others long for and don’t have. It has its pros and cons obviously. I have access to all the homes and establishments in Malta, that others don’t have. From there I can discover how species behave and the new species that are introduced when we distribute species. Others can go and study in Dingli or Ta Ċenċ but they can’t tell you what the distributions of species is in an urban area like San Ġwann. I can tell you such information, as I have access to all the data 

Aren’t cockroaches the most disgusting insect to have at home?

Cockroaches are the insects which interest me the most, because it’s the group which most people fear unnecessarily. There is a lot of misinformation and although I’m not telling anyone to breed cockroaches in the kitchen, it’s not true that they transmit diseases; not at all. Man is very judgmental aesthetically. If we are aware that there’s a caterpillar that is harmful towards agriculture but it will turn into a butterfly, we still appreciate it aesthetically. The cockroach does a lot of good. We are talking about 4,630 different types and we are still discovering new ones. The world would not survive more than 8 weeks should they become extinct 

Have pest populations increased during the pandemic?

Some species that are dependent on man, to be able to get from one house to another - have actually decreased in numbers. For example, bed bugs, what we call ‘baqq’ - also the German cockroach is dependent on man. But in cases where restaurants were closed abruptly and cleaning was not done thoroughly, certain species have invaded. Imagine having a kitchen with plenty of food and having no one to control you… People were spending more time at home and were therefore noticing more issues with their houses. People stayed more indoors and the roads were taken over by others, like for example, mice were showing a lot of presence. People have filmed 

rats in the middle of the road, as they were aware that cars were not passing by regularly for example. Rubbish as well – everything plays a part from the aspect of pests. Everything improved for the species, but for species that are more sensitive like for example dolphins - moved closer to the coast. More birds were seen in Venice and more species were getting in. This shows the huge pressure that man puts on earth, due to the amount of wasted resources. 

Which is the most resilient pest?

I can’t say anything about it, as I don’t cater for it. The most dangerous in terms of infestation, not danger, are fleas and bed bugs. Those are the species that have the most severe effect on man. When it comes to dangerous pests, more than mice and rats, you have the oriental hornets. I don’t like frightening people but when you approach their nest, you are in danger of getting seriously injured. 

Does Malta have a problem with oriental hornets?

The oriental hornet entered the country around eight years ago and spread throughout the Maltese islands. It is more common in urban areas like Sliema and St. Julians, as areas with bricks are more ideal for it - as it nests in them, instead of places like Dingli. Those who cultivate bees in urban areas are losing them, while those in places like Dingli are being less affected. It is being assisted by those that feed wet cat food outdoors and not clean it up afterwards. They are giving the hornets a source of protein and aiding the colonies to expand.

There are some misconceptions about hornets, as in the past this species used to exist along with other similar ones that were eradicated. So, there was a dilemma of whether to kill them or not. Did it come to Malta on its own? In the Mediterranean it expanded on its own. There are many that are mistaking it for the Asian hornet, which is not the case. God forbid they enter the country too. We have to remain vigilant but the impacts that hornets are having on the agriculture and man is best addressed, because it could be fatal. A sting hurts a lot and takes a while for you to recover - but if you get attacked by a group of hornets and are vulnerable, or elderly or a young child, the consequences could be grievous.

Is shooting pigeons a good way to cull the species?

If it were just an ethical issue and it is the solution, I would tell you, ‘yes go for it’. Shooting is in our blood and we Maltese enjoy shooting; however, it is not the solution. In reality what you are doing… for example, if you have a building and kill six or ten, the other pigeons that are aware that the building is perfect for them will go back there. You can’t keep up with the pigeon population. Pigeons were introduced as a species over a long period, not recently. They originate from domesticated pigeons. Their instincts are to reach for cliffs like its ancestor, the rock pigeon, that lives on cliffs. 

It does harm, as they transmit certain diseases and its waste damages historic buildings.  

It also blocks ventilators, when it nests in them and therefore its population needs to be controlled. What this country never learnt, is that the problem is never just in one locality, but it’s a national problem. Certain localities more than others, as pigeons know where food is. But still, it doesn’t make sense that the local council decides to control the population of that locality. As soon as they are eradicated from there, which is not possible - the pigeons from other localities, will go where it best suits them. It’s a national problem. We’re not taking about an invasion of snails but about a bird that flies - which in a few minutes moves easily from Valletta to Sliema (although they do tend to stay in the same place). Therefore, this issue needs to be addressed in a mature way nationally.