Chambered Nautilus

Chambered Nautilus
Chambered Nautilus
Temporal range: Early Pleistocene to Recent
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Cephalopoda
Order: Nautilida
Family: Nautilidae
Genus: Nautilus
Species: N. pompilius
Binomial name
Nautilus pompilius
Linnaeus, 1758
  • Nautilus pompilius pompilius
    Linnaeus, 1758
  • Nautilus pompilius suluensis
    Habe & Okutani, 1988

The Chambered Nautilus, Nautilus pompilius, is the best-known species of nautilus. The shell, when cut away reveals a lining of lustrous nacre and displays a nearly perfect equiangular spiral, although it is not a golden spiral. The shell exhibits countershading, being light on the bottom and dark on top. This is to help avoid predators because when seen from above, it blends in with the darkness of the sea, and when seen from below, it blends in with the light coming from above.

The chambered nautilus has more primitive eyes than some other cephalopods; the eye has no lens and thus is comparable to a pinhole camera. The species has about 90 tentacles with no suckers, which is also different from other cephalopods. Chambered nautiluses have a pair of rhinophores, which detect chemicals, and use olfaction and chemotaxis in order to find their food.

The oldest fossils of the species are known from Early Pleistocene sediments deposited off the coast of Luzon in the Philippines.[1]

Recently, scientists have become alarmed at declining populations of nautilus due to overfishing, and are studying world populations to determine the need for protection under the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.[2]



Two subspecies of N. pompilius have been described:

  • Nautilus pompilius pompilius
  • Nautilus pompilius suluensis

N. p. pompilius is by far the most common and widespread of all nautiluses. It is sometimes called the Emperor Nautilus due to its large size. The distribution of N. p. pompilius covers the Andaman Sea east to Fiji and southern Japan south to the Great Barrier Reef. Exceptionally large specimens with a shell diameter of up to 268 mm[3] have been recorded from Indonesia and northern Australia. This giant form was described as Nautilus repertus, however most scientists do not consider it a separate species.

N. p. suluensis is a much smaller animal, restricted to the Sulu Sea in the southwestern Philippines, after which it is named. The largest known specimen measures 160 mm in shell diameter.[4]

In literature and art

16th century Northern Mannerist nautilus cup

Nautilus shells were popular items in the Renaissance cabinet of curiosities and were often mounted by goldsmiths on a thin stem to make extravagant nautilus shell cups, like the Burghley Nef, mainly intended as decorations rather than for use. Small natural history collections were common in mid-19th century Victorian homes, and chambered nautilus shells were popular decorations.

The Chambered Nautilus is the title and subject of a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, in which he admires the "ship of pearl" and the "silent toil/That spread his lustrous coil/Still, as the spiral grew/He left the past year's dwelling for the new." He finds in the mysterious life and death of the nautilus strong inspiration for his own life and spiritual growth. He concludes:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!

A painting by Andrew Wyeth, entitled "Chambered Nautilus," shows a woman in a canopied bed; the composition and proportions of the bed and the window behind it mirror those of a chambered nautilus lying on a nearby table.

The popular Russian rock band Nautilus Pompilius (Наутилус Помпилиус) is named after the Chambered Nautilus.

American composer and commentator Deems Taylor wrote a cantata entitled The Chambered Nautilus in 1916.


  1. ^ Ryoji, W.; et al (2008). "First discovery of fossil Nautilus pompilius (Nautilidae, Cephalopoda) from Pangasinan, northwestern Philippines". Paleontological Research 12 (1): 89–95. doi:10.2517/1342-8144(2008)12[89:FDOFNP]2.0.CO;2. 
  2. ^ Broad, William (24 October 2011). "Loving the Chambered Nautilus to Death". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 24 October 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2011. 
  3. ^ Nautilus repertus ID:118764. Shell Encyclopedia, Conchology, Inc.
  4. ^ Nautilus pompilius suluensis ID:626793. Shell Encyclopedia, Conchology, Inc.
  • Norman, M. 2000. Cephalopods: A World Guide. Hackenheim, ConchBooks, pp. 30–31.
  • Pisor, D. L. (2005). Registry of World Record Size Shells (4th edition ed.). Snail's Pace Productions and ConchBooks. pp. 93. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • chambered nautilus — noun A marine mollusc, of the family Argonautidae native to the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean, which has tentacles and a spiral shell with a series of air filled chambers. He was still prepared to go on collecting all that life could offer, like …   Wiktionary

  • chambered nautilus — nautilus (def. 1). [1855 60] * * *       any of a genus (Nautilus) of cephalopod mollusks. See nautilus. * * * …   Universalium

  • chambered nautilus — noun cephalopod of the Indian and Pacific oceans having a spiral shell with pale pearly partitions • Syn: ↑pearly nautilus, ↑nautilus • Hypernyms: ↑cephalopod, ↑cephalopod mollusk • Member Holonyms: ↑genus Nautilus …   Useful english dictionary

  • chambered nautilus — noun Date: 1776 nautilus 1 …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • chambered nautilus — cham′bered nau′tilus n. ivt nautilus 1) • Etymology: 1855–60 …   From formal English to slang

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  • Nautilus Pompilius (band) — Nautilus Pompilius Butusov, San francisco, 2005 Background information Origin USSR, Russia Genres …   Wikipedia

  • Nautilus — For other uses, see Nautilus (disambiguation). Nautilus Temporal range: Triassic–Present[1] …   Wikipedia

  • nautilus — /nawt l euhs, not /, n., pl. nautiluses, nautili /nawt l uy , not / for 1, 2. 1. Also called chambered nautilus, pearly nautilus. any cephalopod of the genus Nautilus, having a spiral, chambered shell with pearly septa. 2. See paper nautilus. 3.… …   Universalium

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