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Okay, I’d better stop before Nick L. O’deon tells me to cut it out. So here we go!

The Chambered Nautilus is an ancient deep-sea-dwelling mollusk, distant kin to both octopuses and those clams you had for lunch. They’re one of the oldest kinds of cephalopod on the planet, going all the way back to the Triassic. Which, you know, 251 million years ago. (Plus or minus a few million years.) They survived the extinction event that ended the reign of the dinosaurs, which also terminated their close cousin the Ammonites. These little shell dudes are true survivors.

Since then, the Chambered Nautilus has bobbed its way into our collective consciousness. It inspired the very first fictional submarine, as well as the even more amazing and actually-real-this-time first ever nuclear submarine, and its gorgeous shell can be found in nautical-themed restaurants worldwide. The Chambered Nautilus is a pretty big deal! (For a shellfish, anyway.)

Chambered Nautilus grow to be about ten inches across the shell, which may not sound impressive but is actually an incredible feat of engineering. You’ve probably seen it before, but the Chambered Nautilus has a really trippy segmented spiral thing going on in their shell that a: makes for a great album cover, and b: creates a neutrally buoyant home that can stand the pressure of the deep sea! Which is lucky, because that’s where the Chambered Nautilus lives. These shelled little weirdos are found in the waters of the Indo-Pacific, where they live on the deep edges of coral reefs and sea canyon walls. But not below 2,600 feet, as their shells dramatically implode at that point! Ha ha!

(See, the nice thing about human houses? They rarely implode.)

The Chambered Nautilus is sort of like a snail, except more complex and also backwards. (Yes, I’m serious.) The soft gooey body of the Chambered Nautilus only fits in the first compartment of their shell, which includes their hearts, eyeballs, probable souls, various gross buoyancy organs and their roughly 90 tentacles and jet propulsion system. Yes, those last two things are totally real, I swear. Let’s get into it! I hope you like tentacles!

I’ll address the jet thing first. Chambered Nautiluses are similar to squid, in that they experience the world mostly backwards. They have a water intake valve called a hyponome which is basically a fancy tube that they keep somewhere in their tentacle zone. They use this weird pipe to draw water into an inner chamber inside their shell, and then violently squirt it right back out. This causes the Chambered Nautilus to lurch backwards at high speed like a startled raccoon.

But I didn’t even get to the best part! See, the Chambered Nautilus has very simple eyes and terrible vision. And they can’t even really see around that honkytonk badonkadonk shell anyway, so they lurch violently backwards and then bump comically into things. ALL THE TIME.

But you’ve been waiting patiently, and it’s time to get into the best part: those tentacles! And boy I sure hope you’re a fan, because the Chambered Nautilus has around 90 simple retractable tentacles called cirri. (Make sure you write these down, as there will be a short quiz following this program.) These cirri are covered in tiny ridges, like wet velcro spaghetti. This gives them a really absurd amount of grip, like REALLY absurd. Apparently it’s easier to accidentally rip them right off the Nautilus than it is to get them off a scientist’s glove. (I’m sure that researcher felt REALLY bad afterwards.)

This insane grip comes in handy (Pun!) though, when the Chambered Nautilus is on the hunt. These voracious shellboys mostly eat fish, crabs and shrimp, but they aren’t above scavenging and will eat whatever is available. Once the Chambered Nautilus has spotted a likely meal, it splats itself onto it face-first like a Looney Tunes character and grabs on. Once they prey is snagged, it’s curtains for that particular shrimp. Because like all cephalopods, the Chambered Nautilus has a razor-sharp nightmare beak hidden somewhere in all those tentacles. Yum! (I’m not going to poke around in there and look so you’ll just have to trust me on this.)

But the Chambered Nautilus isn’t doing so hot these days, and it’s all because of that lovely steampunk shell. Its pearly luster and geometric intricacy make them prized by humans, who slaughter the Chambered Nautilus by the thousands to get them. OH NO! This shell-focused hunting has greatly decreased the Chambered Nautilus’s numbers in the past decade, and they’re almost certainly endangered now. Efforts are underway to protect them, but in the meantime: DON’T BUY ANY NAUTILUS SHELLS. Just get an Ammonite fossil, it’s basically the same thing but without the moral baggage or angry cephalopod ghosts.

The Chambered Nautilus survived the extinction that killed off the Ammonites and Dinosaurs, hopefully it will survive this one too.



1. Manuae, Wikimedia Commons

2. Chris 73, Wikimedia Commons

3. James St. John, Flickr

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