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The chambered nautilus moves into the Aquarium.

What Has Chocolate-Brown Zebra Stripes & Ninety Tentacles?

To avoid predators, the chambered nautilus retreats into its shell. Photo courtesy of Michael Bentley.

December 11, 2013

Native to tropical Pacific seas, the chambered nautilus (Nautilus pompilius) is the newest animal at the ABQ BioPark Aquarium. Two chambered nautili are on exhibit next to the sea jellies and near the South Pacific Gallery. Meet these ancient creatures and escape the winter chill from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily.

Older than dinosaurs, chambered nautili are living fossils that have remained virtually unchanged for 500 million years. Unlike their octopi, squid and cuttlefish cousins, these cephalopods have external shells and primitive eyes. They also have unusually long lifespans for cephalopods, living up to 15 years.

They are best known for their smooth, white shells that expand as they grow into adults. Nautili hatch with four internal chambers and develop about 30 chambers in a perfect logarithmic and iridescent spiral.

"The chambered nautilus is well known for its beautifully striped and spiraled shell, which is collected for the seashell trade," said Holly Casman, Aquarium Manager. "Aquarium visitors can help protect nautili by admiring the living animals and refusing to buy nautilus shells."

The chambers aren't just for show. They also help the animals swim.

"To dive, the nautilus adds liquid to its chamber," said Casman. "To float, it releases the liquid and lets the chambers fill with gas making it more buoyant."

Chambered nautili live in tropical oceans where coral reefs slope into deep waters. They spend their days at great depths of 2000 feet or more. At night, they migrate to shallower water of 200-300 feet to feed on crustaceans and fish. Their tentacles lack suckers, but they can still sense and grasp food.

After stopping by the chambered nautilus tank, Aquarium visitors can also catch divers in the water in the Shark Tank and Coral Reef exhibits. Feedings and displays are included with regular admission.

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