Nautilus in the Blue Reef Aquarium, Newquay, Cornwall; 13 Sept 2011.

The exclamation marks in this post’s title are there for a reason. For much of the first half of my life I was an enthusiastic amateur and professional geologist. I found my first fossil – a brachiopod from the Carboniferous Limestone of the nearby Mendip Hills – when I was aged about five, and then proceeded to amass a large collection of rocks, minerals and fossils before leaving home to study geology at university, at the age of 18.

Having Somerset and (especially) Dorset as my boyhood collecting grounds, I soon had many examples of the multitude of fossil ammonites to be found there – and especially those from around Lyme Regis and Charmouth on what is now designated ‘The Jurassic Coast’. Despite their great abundance in the Jurassic period, ammonites have long since gone the way of the dinosaurs and none are to be found living today. However, ammonites are Cephalopods (“head-feet” >>> Google it!), and two groups of these molluscs are still living today.

First, there are the octopus, cuttlefish and squid. And, second, there still remain a very small number of species of Cephalopods which, just like the long extinct ammonites, have a coiled and chambered shell – and the overall name for these is Nautilus.

Nautilus shells are quite common in seaside giftshops, but I’ve never seen live ones before and I was, quite simply, captivated. From the photo you can see some Cephalopod characteristics – the large eyes and the tentacles that Cephalopods use to see and catch their prey. Once clasped by the tentacles, the prey is drawn in towards the sharp beak at the tentacles’ base – all Cephalopods are carnivorous. And if it is itself attacked, the individual above can withdraw its eyes, tentacles and other soft parts back within the shell, when the spotted shield above the eye comes down to seal the opening of the shell shut from predators.

The Nautilus in the Newquay aquarium were enthralling. They were completely impassive but, as I’m writing in Twitter, they were slowly rising and falling in the water like itinerant baubles on a Christmas tree! For the fact is that while the animal lives in the shell’s large, open, end chamber, the other, smaller chambers further back in the shell contain nitrogen which the animal can increase and decrease at will to provide bouyancy – and these in Newquay were doing just that – impassively moving vertically up and down in the water, and causing a faint click when they collided with the tank’s glass sides.

Incredible! Wonderful! And I’m just not sure that my photo does justice to these remarkable creatures >>> but there is just one more fact to mention. Cephalopods squirt a dark ‘ink’ into the water to deter predators – and when early attempts to improve the longevity of photographs resulted in the photographs becoming a brownish grey colour, this tone was called sepia after the colour of the ink produced by the common cuttlefish – which is scientifically classified in the genus Sepia.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: D700 with 24-120 Nikkor lens at 120mm; 6400 ISO; conversion to monochrome via Silver Efex Pro.

About Adrian Lewis
Photographer - using mono, colour and combinations of the two - many types of subject, including Minimalism, landscapes, abstracts, soft colour, people, movement, nature - I like to be adventurous, trying new ideas, working in multiple genres. And I've a weakness for Full English Breakfasts and Duvel golden ale, though not necessarily together.

16 Responses to ARCHIVE 436 – NAUTILUS!!!

  1. krikitarts says:

    It’s true: You have to see one in motion, either (preferably) live or filmed, to appreciate their unique and exotic appeal. I love your comparison to an itinerant Christmas bauble!


    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Thanks, Gary >>> I suppose in the invertebrate world, possibly, and more certainly in the molluscan world, these would be the most enthralling and bizarre creatures I’ve ever seen – and as you say, seeing them up close and alive, is really the thing. 🙂


  2. Beautiful image, and what a nice story.


  3. bluebrightly says:

    🙂 I enjoyed this! I can totally understand your thrill at seeing this handsome creature, and I do think they are amazing. Joe and I were thrilled to watch their cousin the Octopus in an aquarium here (in fact they live here but I’m not a diver, so…). Cuttlefish are also just amazing. Your photo is gorgeous but seeing them move up and down like that has to be really fabulous. And the zinger at the end of your post – sepia! Who knew? Thank you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great photo and really interesting post!


  5. love it Adrian!! And I have two ammonite fossils I found on amateur digs on Vancouver island.


  6. oneowner says:

    I love this particular subject matter, A. I get excited when I get the chance to shoot subjects like this at the Museum and I probably spend more time on them than I should. Although I’m required to just document the subject< I try to manage some extra time for some extra shots that are more "artistic". I notice from some newer publication other museums are doing the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fascinating! I’ve never seen a live one, or even a photograph of a live one. What an amazing critter.


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