A SCAFFOLDER suspects he was bitten by a false widow spider – Britain’s “most venomous spider” – as he worked in York.

Len Smith, 57, suffered a poisonous bite on his stomach while working on a farm in Naburn.

The bite swelled up significantly, and despite having medical treatment took eight months to heal.

Mr Smith, of Winchester Avenue, off Poppleton Road, said he now believes the symptoms of his bite are consistent with the reaction caused by the venomous false widow spider, a breed which is reported to be spreading.

He said: “All spiders bite but that one is venomous.

“It was painful and sore and took a long time to heal up because the skin has been dissolved. It was really intense swelling and the skin split. I immediately went to the doctors.”

He said he now has a scar as a result of the bite last year, which had to be treated with iodine strips, magnesium suphate and antibiotics.

There has been a national increase of reported sightings of the venomous spider, but experts have reassured people the spider rarely bites and usually only if provoked. In York a number of sightings have been reported.

But Dr Geoff Oxford, vice-president of the British Arachnological Society and of the University of York’s biology department, said many people are confusing false widows with garden cross spiders, which are benign and common.

Dr Oxford said: “It is vitally important that the public photograph or catch what they think is a false widow spider and have it properly identified by an expert. If anyone is bitten by anything proper identification is even more crucial.”

The false widow spider, which is about the size of a 50p piece, was until recently found in the south-west.

Conservationists believe that changes in the climate could be encouraging the spider to make itself at home in new areas. The false widow spider has a striking bulbous abdomen, but it is brownish in colour rather than pitch black, usually with distinctive cream markings and reddish-orangey legs.

Symptoms of being bitten by a false widow spider include pain which can radiate along a limb, swelling and sometimes a fever. More serious symptoms have occasionally been reported.

A spokesman for the Natural History Museum said: “The species is now found in many parts of southern England. In some areas of south and south-east England it is now quite common at a local level... we’re expecting the species to continue to increase its distribution within the UK.”