THIS unusual caterpillar was spotted by a family in Huntingdon’ Riverside Park.

Joanne Cole, of Bevan Close, was with her children and grandchildren in the park on Saturday when her daughter spotted the creature - which she initially thought was a toy.

Ms Cole, 43, said: "My daughter thought it was a rubber toy so we poked it and it started moving. We looked around to see if there were anymore but we could only see the one. The size of it compared to a normal caterpillar was massive. My daughter googled it and we came up with the tomato hornworm. We read that it is native to America and Canada so we have no idea how it came to be here.

"We put it in an empty drinks bottle and took it up to Wood Green. The woman who looked at it said 'Ah, that's an elephant hawk moth' but when we looked them up they're completely different."

Ms Cole's five-year-old son kept the caterpillar in his bug house - before releasing it on a trip to his grandparents' house in Hartford.

She said the caterpillar was the length of a cigarette and felt "velvety".

"It was really fascinating," she said. "The sheer size of it was incredible.

"It's a bit of a mystery how it came to be in the park."

However, Hunts Post readers Dr Nigel Holmes, an environmental consulant, and Eynesbury resident Barry Dickerson, have come forward to identify the creepy crawlie as a native species after seeing the picture in yesterday's newspaper.

Dr Holmes said: "The caterpillar is that of the Privet Hawk Moth. They're not uncommon but one of our largest native breeding moths. The caterpillars most often feed on privet and ash. The moths have wingspans just short of five inches and can make hissing sounds."

Mr Dickerson said: "It is the largest resident hawk-moth in Britain, only being beaten in size by a few rare migrant species that are found locally on rare occasions. The caterpillar feeds on ash, lilac and as the name suggests privet. The caterpillar in the photograph looks to be fulll grown, so was undoubtedly wandering around looking for a site in which to pupate. The caterpillar looks for loose soil which it can burrow into to pupate and stays as a pupa until the following June when it emerges as a moth."