Basements Infested by Rare Arachnids : Spiders: Violin species, indigenous to South America, has been found in downtown L.A. buildings.


A routine county Health Department inspection has led to the discovery of more than 100 spiders from a rare, potentially dangerous species in the basements of six downtown Los Angeles buildings.

“Have you seen the movie ‘Arachnaphobia?’ ” said Frank Hall, chief of the county’s Vectorborne Disease Surveillance and Entomology Program. “It was close to that.”

Hall said Tuesday that health officials have taken steps to eradicate the Loxosceles laeta , commonly known as the South American violin spider, from the buildings on or near Broadway between 2nd and 5th streets. He said officials are still attempting to determine the extent of the infestation.


A bite from the brown spider, which derives its name from the violin-shaped pattern on its back, can cause permanent scarring.

“In other countries, complications resulting from the spider bite have led to death,” Hall said.

No bites have been reported from the current infestation.

The spider, which is a quarter to half an inch long with legs as long as one inch, is attracted to quiet, dusty habitats--such as little-used basement storage areas.

The inspector who discovered a spider during a routine inspection for rats on March 24 did not at first know what he had found, Hall said.

“He thought it was an interesting-looking spider” and brought it back to the office where it was identified by an entomologist, Hall said.

Officials believe that the arachnids have been in the basements for at least a year because of “webbing throughout the entire area,” Hall said. He did not know how the spider, which is indigenous to South America, came to Los Angeles.


“Anyone going into an area not used very often should be careful and look out for spiders,” Hall warned.

Anyone with a spider bite that does not heal quickly should contact a physician, he added.

The discovery of violin spiders created a scare in the San Gabriel Valley more than 20 years ago.

Members of one Sierra Madre family temporarily left home until they could be assured that a specimen trapped under a pot was not deadly.

After more than 50 violin spiders were discovered in five public buildings at Sierra Madre Memorial Park in 1969, worried residents brought in hundreds of harmless spiders in jelly jars, ice cream containers and plastic coffee cups to be identified.

Teams of vector control workers from state and county health departments spread out searching and spraying. Eventually, they reported finding about 170 violin spiders in Sierra Madre alone.

Over the next three years, more of the brown spiders were found in Sierra Madre, El Monte, Alhambra, Highland Park, San Gabriel and Monterey Park, health officials said. But no bites were reported.


Experts who have studied the species since the scare say violin spiders are extremely timid, nocturnal creatures that prefer dark, quiet places, making contact with humans less likely.