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Updated 10:35 AM EDT, Thu, Apr 18, 2019

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Weird, Ancient Groundhog Gives Clues About Mammals During Dinosaur Age

Vintana sertichi

(Photo : Joseph Groenke/Stony Brook University) This ancient mammal that looks like a groundhog provides clues about the evolution of mammals.

Mammals that existed during the age of dinosaurs are considered small, with many weighing less than a pound. Researchers, however, have discovered a strange fossil skull in Madagascar that reveals a giant Jurassic mammal that probably weighed some 20 pounds.

Lead researcher David Krause from Stony Brook University, New York describes the ancient mammal as a monster, comparing it to a large groundhog.

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Krause and his team named the ancient mammal, "Vintana sertichi." Vintana translates to "luck" in the Malagasy language of Madagascar because the skull came as a surprise to scientists. Originally, the team was performing a CT scan of a large sandstone block to study fish fossils when the skull appeared and took them by surprise. 

The second name, sertichi, is named after Joseph Sertich, who found the sandstone block in 2010. Sertich is currently the curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

To date, this mammal is considered the second heaviest mammal that existed during the dinosaur period some 250 to 60 million years ago. Krause also hints this creature measured about 20 to 24 inches across its body and lived some 66 to 72 million years ago.

This skull measuring five inches is a pivotal clue in the understanding southern hemisphere mammals during the dinosaur age. Scientists only know a few details about these mammals as they've only found some bits of teeth and jaws. These mammals apparently don't have any modern day descendants.

Krause also details the strange shape of this skull, which is very tall compared to its length while the eye sockets are extremely large. It also has weird flanges around the bottom jaw.

The skull also shows the brain inside of it was tilted, a feature not common in other animals.  The features and characteristics of Vintana sertichi mixes primitive and advanced ones.

Based on analysis, Vintana is a herbivore that had good eyesight even in the dark and a sharp sense of smell. Krause believes these abilities came in handy and allowed these mammals to survive and escape from predators.

This study was published in the journal, Nature.

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