STL Science Center

STL Science Center

02 February 2019

Groundhog Day

In 2014 a fossil skull from Madagascar introduced us to a "groundhog-like" mammal of the Late Cretaceous. The animal was named Vintana sertichi in Krause et. al, 2014. This mammal was estimated to weigh approximately 9.1 kg (20 lbs) and was relatively short, as we can see in Nobu Tamura's reconstruction below. Flanges found in the skull are not well understood and appear to have no homologous structure in modern relatives, but their purpose could still be discovered with more discoveries of the fossils or further investigation into the family as a whole. Regardless, the endocast of the brain did reveal very large olfactory bulbs. We know from this that Vintana had a good sense of smell and likely used this trait actively and frequently in its normal day to day life. It may seem that a single skull of a small mammal is not that important, however, mammologists and mammal paleontologists think this skull is pretty amazing. The reason that they feel this way is because this fossil skull represents possibly the best preserved skull of any gondwanatheres; a group of southern hemisphere cynodonts that lived from the Cretaceous to the Miocene. Actually, another interesting facet of Vintana is that, though it was discovered in Madagascar off the east coast of the African continent, it belongs to the mammalian sudamericidae family which translates literally to the South American family of mammals. In fairness, a largenumber of gondwanatheres belong to this family and have been discovered in Africa, making Vintana not the first and probably not the last
©Nobu Tamura

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