Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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Skull of Extinct Animal Reveals More About Prehistoric Mammals

Ancient mammal

(Photo : The cast of the skull of Vintana sertichi (foreground) with a lifelike reconstruction by Staab Studios.

Scientists discovered a mammalian fossil from the dinosaur age that could probably help in better understanding early mammalian history.

Paleontologists unearthed the fossils in Madagascar as they were searching for fish fossils. They believe the well-preserved cranium of this extinct mammal lived about 66 million to 70 million years ago.

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The enormous nine kilogram skull is heavier than most other mammals of the Mesozoic Era. This animal might have measured 20 inches to 24 inches from nose to rump.

It's two or three times the size of an adult groundhog today. The comparison was made because the specimen looks like a groundhog.

Researchers found out the fossils belong to a distinct new genus and it's called Vintana sertichi. Vintana means luck in the Malagasy language. It belongs to a lineage without any known descendants.

"It's an entirely extinct lineage, an early experiment in mammals that didn't make it," said paleontologist David W. Krause, from Stony Brook University on Long Island, leader of the research team.

Based on the set of cranial features, this animal was an active plant eater. The specie had strong jaws, a keen sense of smell, well-developed hearing and terrific eyesight under low light conditions, according to the researchers.

Vintana belonged to a group of early mammals known as gondwanatherians that lived on the southern supercontinent of Gondwana.

Vintana is the second-largest mammal discovered from the age of dinosaurs, according to Dr. Krause.

Zhe-Xi Luo, mammalian evolution experts and anatomist at the University of Chicago, called Vintana the "discovery of the decade for understanding the deep history of mammals."

"This mammal helps to stretch our imagination of what is possible by evolution beyond our stereotypes from the extant mammals. Early mammal history is our own history - that is why a discovery of this kind is important, because it may prompt us to re-think our own evolutionary past," Luo added.

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