Meet Shelley the Chambered Nautilus

Chambered Nautilus

Chambered Nautilus (photo by John White)

Sigh, I get no respect unless I am dead and my shell is mounted on a human’s wall. My name is Shelley, and I am a chambered nautilus. I am so unlike my sexy and charismatic cephalopod cousins. You have probably heard of them because you eat them! There is the intelligent and camouflage master called the octopus, the swiftly darting and flashing squid (also known as calamari), and the hovering aliens known as cuttlefish. Well, maybe you have not heard of a cuttlefish, but any bird owner is familiar with their cuttlebone, which is used by birds to sharpen their beaks. Once you learn about their puppy-like behavior and the lightning quick manner in which they use their two front tentacles to nab prey, I am sure you will fall in love with them!

Unfortunately I fall into the category of “things that go bump in the night.” I emerge like a vampire from the pitch black depth of 2000 feet (610 meters) to the slightly less pitch dark depth of 328 feet (100 meters) at night to feed.

I look like an upside down snail (another creature that does not get much respect unless it is cooked on a plate in front of a human!) with thin tentacles waving every which way. My shell, which is highly sought after by human collectors, makes me the evolutionary link between the other shell-less cephalopods and the rest of the animal kingdom. I should be flattered by that, but it just makes me feel like a freak in comparison!

But I do love my shell! My many internal shell chambers (hence the “chamber” in my name) are lined with this beautiful pearlescent sheen, and they are what make me so appealing to humans when my shell is sliced in half and used as a decoration. I grow more chambers as I get older and grow larger. These chambers are essential to my well being as I force air in and out of them so I can rise and fall in the water column. I am like a miniature submarine that controls its buoyancy by capturing and releasing water.

I would love to dazzle you with the chambered nautilus’ population numbers across all the oceans, but not only do I not know, but humans have no idea either! They do not even have an estimate. Humans can count imported shells, but like many species that go extinct because of human causes, no one knows that they are killing the last member of a species. So please stop buying chambered nautilus shells before we go extinct! Thank you!

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