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Homeowner baffled by 'strange little creature' found in Aussie garden

The large cartoon-like eyes on the critter left many in awe.

Australia is known for its weird and wonderful flora and fauna varieties with those visiting Down Under often amazed by the array of species that inhabit our continent.

But it's Aussies themselves who have been left baffled by a woman's find in her garden this week, with many admitting the "weirdly shaped" creature was "the cutest thing" they'd ever seen.

The homeowner made the discovery at her property in Sydney's inner-west. The cylindrical-shaped object was spotted nesting in her garden's hedge. Photos show a brown-coloured slug-like critter with large, coloured cartoon-like "eyes" — something she, and many others, say they've never seen before.

Pale Brown Hawkmoth on back decking.
The critter was identified as a Pale Brown Hawkmoth in it's larval stage. Source: Facebook

"Does anyone know what this strange little creature is?" she posted in a local community Facebook group hoping for answers. According to the experts, they're "quite common" but rarely ever seen.

"I seriously thought you stuck googly eyes on a weirdly shaped stocking," one neighbour said of the unusual-looking animal. "That is the cutest thing I have ever seen," another responded.

'Cute' critter identified: 'Rarely see them'

Some identified the creature as "some type of hawkmoth caterpillar" which Andrew Mitchell, an entomologist at the Australian Museum confirmed to Yahoo News Australia. Specifically, the Pale Brown Hawkmoth, or Theretra latreillii, in its larval stage.

"It is most often found on vines, including grape vines, and they are quite common, especially around this time of year — late summer to early autumn," he explained. "This species has quite a wide distribution, from the Kimberley region (in WA) eastwards along the coastal strip all the way to Cape York (in Queensland) and then south to Sydney."

Caterpillars camouflage into their environment

Dr Darrell Kemp from Macquarie University told Yahoo "this specimen is interesting in the sense that most of the body is almost certainly cryptically coloured". In other words, it's camouflaged. It's a defence tactic that organisms use to disguise their appearance, usually to blend in with their surroundings so we "rarely see them".

Hawkmoth caterpillar with pink and blue eyes scooped up in blue dustpan.
The large colourful fake eyes and brown body are designed to deter predators. Source: Facebook

"You can see the diagonal marks along the side which represent what we would call 'disruptive colouration'. This is a key feature of crypsis designed to interfere with the perception of predatory viewers by disrupting the outline of the animal," he said.

In conjunction with the generally mottled brown appearance, this individual would be "extremely difficult to detect among twigs, stems and dead foliage," Dr Kemp added, so it's pretty impressive the Sydney woman was able to spot it.

Cartoon-like 'eyes' used to deter predators

The colourful eyes, or at least the appearance of eyes, are also thought to be a protective feature or a deterrent for predators. "The eyespots are most likely used as a startling effect, again designed to deter predators by giving the appearance of a larger (potentially dangerous) animal," Kemp explained. "They could be used in conjunction with a rapid display behaviour that the larva does when threatened – a so-called deimatic display."

Explaining their protective behaviour, Mitchell said they often resemble a miniature snake.

"When threatened they puff up the front of their body, raise it into the air, suck the head in a bit, and can look quite convincingly like a snake when viewed front on — some species even hiss and strike at you," he said. "But they’re completely harmless of course"

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