‘Violin’ spider said to have killed man in Italy: What risk in France?

We look into whether this poisonous arachnid is also found in France

The Mediterranean recluse spider can cause harmful reactions but is not usually deadly

Reader question: I read a story about a man in Italy dying from a spider bite. Is that species found in France?

The spider in question is claimed to have been a Mediterranean recluse spider, a small sandy-brown insect called in French as araignée violoniste (violinist spider) or italian ragno violino (violin spider) after a violin-shaped mark on its back.

The story was reported in French media including La Dépêche, Midi Libre, La Montagne and BFMTV, borrowing from Italian newspaper Il Messaggero.

Konstantinos Moulas, a 58-year-old Greek businessman, was found dead in his hotel room at the Oasi di Kufra in Sabaudia, a small town south of Rome, the newspaper reported.

The cause of death was an anaphylactic shock, which Italian investigators think was probably caused by a spider bite. Colleagues of the man stated he had complained of discomfort, an itch and a general malaise after visiting a kiwi greenhouse where it is thought he may have been bitten.

The Mediterranean recluse is a potentially dangerous spider that is found in that part of Italy and press reports speculate that it was the cause.

However, there is so far not enough information to know for sure that the death was caused by that specific – or even any – spider, two arachnologists (spider experts) told The Connexion.

Is this spider found in France?

The Mediterranean recluse, known as ‘violinist’ spider because of a violin-shaped marking on its back, is part of the genus loxosceles, which has several species, for example the loxosceles reclusa, which is only found in North America.

It is feared by Canadians and Americans both for its venom, which can cause necrosis of the skin, and from its tendency to hide and lurk in barns and houses, said Christine Rollard, an arachnologist from France’s national natural history museum in Paris.

Ms Rollard said however, there are very few bites reported from the Loxosceles reclusa despite being one of the most dangerous species.

In France the Mediterranean recluse (loxosceles rufescens) was recorded by biologists as early as 1820 and it can be found around the Mediterranean, mainly in the Gard, Hérault, Var and Alpes-Maritimes.

However, “the number of bites reported for that species is even smaller”,Ms Rollard said.

Why is it most likely not that spider?

Ms Rolland is not convinced that the death was caused by the spider, given the fact no coroner’s report was mentioned in the original article.

Notably, a bite from a loxosceles rufescens is not usually known to provoke an anaphylactic shock, Ms Rollard said, though it can cause a number of other symptoms.

She said most reactions to a loxosceles rufescens’ bite resolve themselves in two to three days, with sometimes a scab forming around the bite that heals in another couple of days.

An ulceration can heal in around three to four weeks in more serious cases. The most dangerous bites – around 10% – can however have harmful effects on internal organs as well.

“The spider bites the skin with difficulty,” said Anne Bounias Delacour, a spider expert from a consultancy called Fils et soies. She also does not believe the loxosceles rufescens caused the death.

The spider is one centimetre long and its stings are often too small to pierce through skin, she added. She said it is only capable of piercing the skin when is subject to a lot of stress during a defensive reaction.

There have been no deaths reported from a brown recluse spider in the United States in 2023, according to Boston Children’s Hospital, in 2023.

The last death from a brown recluse happened in 2004, according to another American media ai.com, citing records from the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

“I have never seen it happen yet in Europe,” Ms Bounias Delacour said.

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