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Scientists identify prehistoric 'Punxsutawney Phil on steroids'

Scientists identify prehistoric 'Punxsutawney Phil on steroids'

A fossilized skull found in Madagascar has given scientists a new look at some of the mammals that coexisted with the dinosaurs.

The five-inch-long skull was identified as belonging to a groundhog-like creature the scientists named "Vintana sertichi."

The animal, detailed in a paper in the journal Nature, weighed an impressive 20 pounds and was between 20 and 24 inches long, the scientists estimate. David Krause, a vertebrate paleontologist at Stony Brook University who led the research team, compared the Vintana to a groundhog, telling National Geographic that the animal was "Punxsutawney Phil on steroids."

The scientists' analysis suggests that Vintana, which lived during the late Cretaceous period between 66 million and 72 million years ago, was a plant-eater with sharp eyesight and a strong sense of smell. Its odd features helped it avoid becoming "a very fine hors d'oeuvre" for dinosaurs, Krause told The Associated Press.

The find is especially intriguing, the scientists note, because most mammals in that time weighed less than one pound. The Vintana sertichi is the second heaviest mammal identified from the dinosaur era and the largest from the ancient Southern Hemisphere.