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The Paper Nautilus

Updated on December 25, 2012
BlossomSB profile image

Bronwen and her family have enjoyed collecting many things, including fans, clocks, books and shells.

The Delicate 'Paper Nautilus.'
The Delicate 'Paper Nautilus.' | Source


In the Animalia Kingdom we find the Phylum of Mollusca. These are the molluscs that are invertebrates and include land animals such as slugs and snails, and sea animals like mussels and other animals that have a soft body and often an external protective shell.

The most highly developed molluscs are in the Class Cephalopoda. This Class covers marine creatures such as the octopus, squid and nautilus. The word is interesting as it comes from two words that mean "head-footed," as the tentacles are considered to be a type of mollusc foot, but they are attached to a structure that includes their highly developed eyes and brain: what we think of as the head!

Cephalopods have heads with eight or more tentacles. They have been around for a long time as many different types that are now extinct have been found as fossils and there are only a few hundred species left.

The Genus Argonauta

The Genus Argonauta are known as argonauts, a word that means 'sailor on the Argo.' Argos was a very important ancient Greek city that was built near the sea. Argonauts belong to the Order of Octopoda and are known as pelagic octopuses, or nautilus that live in the ocean.

The paper nautilus is a type of octopus and does not have a shell. It has a rounded body, eight tentacles and where most octopuses live on the seabed, the paper nautilus stays close to the surface. There are both male and female paper nautilus. The male is usually only about 2 cm, while the female is five times bigger, about 10 cm. The paper nautilus is carnivorous, feeding during the day on other molluscs, crustaceans, fish and jellyfish. They use their tentacles to catch their prey and then bite it, injecting a poison to paralyze it. The jaws of the nautilus are strong and can inflict a nasty bite on humans. In turn, the paper nautilus may become food for larger predators such as tuna and dolphins.

These marine animals were originally called nautilus, meaning 'sailor,' because it was thought that their special 'arms' were used as sails when they moved on the surface of the sea. It was later found that the arms were used by female paper nautilus to secrete the beautiful, very thin and delicate shell to protect her eggs. It is really an egg-case, rather than a shell; it usually measures around 30 cm. The male does not make an egg-case.

The Egg Case Viewed from Above
The Egg Case Viewed from Above | Source

The Paper Nautilus and Reproduction

The tiny male was only discovered in the 1800s. He has a special arm that is inserted into the female's pallial cavity to transfer his sperm to the female. Then the arm breaks off and the male dies. His life-span is short, but the female lives considerably longer, usually mating several times and rearing numerous broods.

The female then produces the beautifully sculptured egg-case, complete with a bubble of air so that it floats. She deposits her eggs in it and also makes it her home so she can protect her eggs. She guards the entrance and curls around the outside, but will withdraw inside if frightened. Like her cousin the squid, she can change her colour or produce a paralyzing ink in an attempt to escape from predators.

Mt. Eliza is Between Frankston and Mornington

The Paper Nautilus and Climate Change

The paper nautilus egg-case in the accompanying photographs was found with a dying female some years ago on some rocks at Mt. Eliza on the Mornington Peninsula of Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, Australia. All the literature consulted on the topic state that the paper nautilus is found in tropical and sub-tropical waters; for Eastern Australia that means to just south of the Tropic of Capricorn, which is -23.26. Brisbane is -27.29 and the latitude of Melbourne is -37.49; Mt. Eliza is -38.194, well south of sub-tropical waters. Perhaps it had blown off course and was drawn into the warmer waters of the bay as the average temperature there is 15.8C compared with 15.0C of the ocean outside.

It has been proposed by some marine scientists that due to the unique method of making the thin egg-case, global warming and the increasing pH of the ocean may contribute to causing the shell to dissolve, thus causing the beautiful, interesting paper nautilus to be at risk of extinction.

Another Angle of the Egg Case, Showing the Beautiful Sculpting
Another Angle of the Egg Case, Showing the Beautiful Sculpting | Source

Join This Poll

Have you ever seen a paper nautilus egg-case in the wild?

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    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      7 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Deon Meyer: How lovely! 14? Wow! And I'm so proud of my one shell, but then I don't live near the beach any more. Have fun and enjoy it!

    • profile image

      Deon Meyer 

      8 years ago

      Hi everyone - I have picked one up today,to add to my collection of 14 so far.We live in the coastal town Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape,about an hour to the west of Port Elizabeth in South Africa.

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      8 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      alancaster149: You can borrow mine - it's mouldering away in the top of the wardrobe!

      acaetha: Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. I find it an amazing creature, too.

    • acaetnna profile image


      8 years ago from Guildford

      This was so fascinating and completely amazing.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      8 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Wait a minute, I'll just see if my snorkel still fits...

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      8 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Oh, sorry for misunderstanding. Have you ever tried to find them? It's quite a big area.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      8 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      No, I was talking about the crown jewels lost by King John. Sorry about that.

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      8 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      teaches12345: I'm glad you enjoyed it and thank you for your comment.

      alancaster149: They're marine creatures, so I doubt that they'd be in the fens, unless as fossils. Is this comment true?

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      8 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      They're deep, deep down in the mud somewhere. Fancy a go at sucking up the fens to find 'em?

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      8 years ago

      This is a beautiful creature. I have not seen one before, the photo proves it to be so interesting. Great job in writing on the nautilus. Very interesting to read.

    • BlossomSB profile imageAUTHOR

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      8 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Tilsontitan: There are so many things in this wonderful world that we'd like to know more about. Ha! Some female spiders are bigger than their male counterparts, too. Thank you for your interesting comments.

      billybuc: That's quite a compliment! Thank you.

      Eiddwen: Thank you for reading, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

      flashmakeit: They're not usually found whole on beaches as they're fragile and break up so easily.

      shiningirisheyes: Yes, if we're going to have a world to enjoy we need to take greater care of it.

      aviannovice: I do hope not, they are so interesting.

      alancaster149: Thank you for all that interesting information. Were those crown jewels ever found? I loved the Swannery down that way and Chessil Bank with its graded pebbles was fascinating, too.

      Mours sshields: They're not common and so fragile, I'd only read about them and seen them in a museum before finding this one.

      always exploring: I guess it is sad, but that's the way of some creatures in nature. The drones in the beehive are the males and they die, too, when they've done their duty with the queen bee.

      Marcia Ours: It is! I'm afraid I love collecting shells, so I'm going to do another hub on them soon.

      Cyndi10: It is a delicate balance and can be so easily upset by us humans being thoughtless. Thank you for your comments.

      Frank Atanacio: There is so much in the world that we can gain pleasure from learning about.

      Lipnancy: Glad you enjoyed the read. Thank you.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 

      8 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      I had never heard of this. Thanks for the very interesting read.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      8 years ago from Shelton

      im like most I have not seen nor heard of it until now thanks to you :)

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      I've never heard of the paper nautilus. This was interesting information. Sad, though, that so many creatures of the sea are being threatened. The world exists in such a magnificent, delicate balance. Very good and well written information.

    • profile image

      Marcia Ours 

      8 years ago

      It's beautiful too!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      8 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I have never heard of the paper nautilus. Your article is very interesting. I know this sounds silly, but i find it sad about the male's life span. Thank you..Enjoyed..

    • profile image

      mours sshields 

      8 years ago from Elwood, Indiana

      Inever heard of this before. Thanks for sharing!

      Marcia Ours

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      8 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      There's not much exotic that floats around the North Sea, except the odd Basking Shark up the East Coast. Down in Devon they've seen more dangerous species like Box Jelly and sharks that have strayed eastwards around southern Ireland from the Gulf Stream or from the Canaries and North Africa. We have a couple of 'Dinosaur Coasts', one in Dorset, the other between Whitby and points north towards Boulby Cliff. Apparently at one time this part of the world was part of a great continent, and at other times tropical - but well before the First Ice Age.

      There were jellyfish in The Wash when we went to Heacham Beaches (east of Kings Lynn), but that's a fairly sheltered inlet at the mouths of several rivers where King John lost his crown jewels.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      8 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Oh, dear, not something else that we are going to lose soon!

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      8 years ago from Upstate, New York

      This was such an interesting article on one of natures amazing creatures. It is also a further sad statement as to our not caring properly for this globe as they now face extinction.

    • flashmakeit profile image


      8 years ago from usa

      This is the first time I have ever seen or read about a Paper Nautilus. I am glad you shared this information.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      8 years ago from Wales

      A great read Blossom which I vote up plus share.


    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well that was fascinating. I have never seen or heard of these. This hub is better than National Geographic. Thanks for the great information.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      8 years ago from New York

      Not only have I never seen the egg-case, I've never heard of the paper nautilus! I love the ocean but don't profess to have as much knowledge about it as I'd like. So many beautiful and interesting things as you've proved here. Hmm, the female is five times bigger...wonder what that's all about!

      Voted this up, useful, and interesting.


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