UT researcher aids in discovery of prehistoric mammal

Chris Mendez

Anthropology associate professor Chris Kirk aided a research team in describing a new species of prehistoric mammal from Madagascar.

The research team, led by David Krause of Stony Brook University, unearthed the mammal called Vintana sertichi, which lived during the late Cretaceous and Miocene periods. 

With the help of micro-computerized tomography, which uses computer-processed X-rays to produce images of specific areas of a scanned object, researchers studied the cranial anatomy of this group in order to find out more about its physical features and diet.

“The externally visible anatomy of [Vintana sertichi] tells us a lot about its diet and mastication,” Kirk said. “These mammals were herbivores that had flat molar teeth that rubbed back and forth to chew.”

According to Kirk, UT has been at the forefront of this new micro-CT technology and even uses it on campus. 

“UT has a dedicated micro-computerized tomography lab in the Jackson School [of Geosciences],” Kirk said. “People at UT have been doing this for a while.”

The research team found that Vintana sertichi also probably had large eyes and good high-frequency hearing.

“The hypothesis is that mammals went through a bottleneck in their evolution,” Kirk said. “Throughout the Mesozoic era, most mammals were thought to be nocturnal, and they needed good senses of hearing, touch and smell to function at night. However, the large eyes of [Vintana sertichi] are more difficult to interpret since there are a number of different reasons that some living mammals have evolved large eyes.” 

According to Kirk, the evolution of mammals like Vintana sertichi, called gondwanatheres, has been poorly understood. 

“[Vintana sertichi] give us our first glimpse of gondwanatheres beyond isolated jaws and teeth, which in turn has yielded important new insights into gondwanathere evolutionary relationships and adaptations,” Kirk said.