Photo by Candace diCarlo
Pest management specialist, under contract to Facilities Management
Length of service:
He owns two rat terriers, who he's training to sniff out - what else - rats.
Every issue, at the bottom of page 5, we ask, "What's bugging you?" Martin Overline knows the answer.
For nine years, he and his team of four pest-management specialists have played Pied Piper to the creatures that crawl, scurry and fly into Penn's buildings. Most of the time, they encounter the usual suspects - mice, rats, squirrels, and various flying and crawling insects. Sometimes, though, they are called on to roust the unexpected.
For instance, there was the snake in Sansom West. Then there was the possum in the School of Dental Medicine, and the hawk in the Quad that upset a lot of people as he feasted on pigeons...but let's let him tell you about these cases and how he handles what bugs you.
Q. I imagine that the bulk of your work is routine - insects, mice and the like. But you do occasionally get some unusual creatures. What ones stand out?
A. I guess the best one would be - it was Grad B, there [were] two students who had been contracted to take care of the gymnasium in the Grad Towers. But unfortunately, they had a problem and they were tossed out of the dorm. Then I had a call from Housekeeping saying there was a snake in the room, on the ninth floor of the building, which I found a little weird, so I went over there and sure enough, in the closet, there was a 12-foot-long Burmese python left by these two students.
Q. They had kept it as a pet?
A. I guess they had kept it as a pet. So anyways, I had no experience in 12-foot-long Burmese python snakes. In fact, I thought it was a boa constrictor. I managed to get it in a laundry bag and transport it to the Vet School, where a student of exotic species took it off my hands for me and told me it was a Burmese python.
Q. Are they particularly dangerous?
A. No, I think it's just because it was so large and it's not something I see every day. With this job, the fear factor is the greatest thing to overcome, be it a 12-foot-long Burmese python or be it a rat.
Q. What was the scariest job you've had to handle here at Penn?
A. I really don't think I have a fear of anything. I've never gotten scared over a particular job.
Q. Then there are the just plain bizarre cases, like the one with the possum. How did that one come to pass?
A. This is something you don't usually see. Possums are very native to West Philadelphia. But it's a nocturnal creature, and people aren't used to seeing them. So when one gets stuck somewhere, when the sun comes up, it's usually going to stay there until the sun goes down because it's frightened and it doesn't want to move. So you have somebody walking by that's not used to seeing it, they're going to call it in and that's when they call me to remove it.
Q. So where did this possum get trapped at sunrise?
A. Well, [it was in] the Dental School, which was pretty unusual, because it was on the second floor in one of the clinics, which - it boggles your mind how a creature would get into that area.
Believe it or not, you can actually just pick them up by the tail and carry them right out without them biting you or attacking you.
Q. They're that scared?
A. They're that scared. You can just pick them right up by the tail and carry them out. Now, a lot of people don't want to see that, so a lot of times I'll put them in a box or a trash can. That's why they call them opossums, because their defense mechanism is to "play possum."
Q. And what was the problem with the hawk? He was just eating pigeons, and those are considered a nuisance in the city.
A. Only to some people. That's why you have to be, I guess, politically correct, because what might upset one person, another person will get very defensive about. You have people on this campus that feed the pigeons all the time, and the squirrels. And they're God's beautiful creatures to these people. But to another person, they're vermin.
Q. So was the hawk moved to another nest?
A. No. There's actually quite a few hawks in this area. You see hawks all the time, and they're so beneficial to the area. I'm very glad to see them around, because it's a natural way of doing pest control, which is basically what you want.
Q. How do you handle the more ordinary pests?
A. We practice what is called integrated pest management. That would encompass using everything you can possibly do before you would use the poison, the insecticide or the rodenticide or the avicide or the herbicide or whatever kind of -cide you want to use.
Say you had ants in a room - well, the carpet might just need to be vacuumed to remove some crumbs that fell on it. If there's a rat problem, you just might need to do a little landscaping, remove some weeds or something like that.
You want to discourage the creature. If you put stress on a creature, it will leave an area. And by putting stress on them you do one of three things: remove their harborage, eliminate their food source, or eliminate their water source. And we try to practice that method in pest control. But in some cases, yes, we do use pesticides, and we just look at them nowadays as a tool.
Originally published on February 11, 1999