Thursday, January 21, 2010

Paper Nautilus

A reader recently discovered an unusual "seashell" half buried in the sand on Ocracoke's beach. She left it with Deanna at the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum, and I went down there to take a look at it. It was truly a beautiful specimen, complete, unbroken, and as delicate as fine China. I had never seen anything like it, nor had anyone else at the museum. They consulted various shell books but were unable to identify it.

Back home, from somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, the term "paper nautilus" popped into my head. I did a quick Google search. Sure enough, that's what it was. It looked just like the photos. But I didn't read enough to learn about it. And I wondered if this specimen had arrived on our beach from the Atlantic, or via one of the Outer Banks shell shops. A visitor could have purchased this exotic item and then dropped it accidentally while strolling along the beach.

Later I went back to the computer and did a little research. I discovered that the paper nautilus is not a seashell at all. It is the paper-thin egg case secreted by the female Argonaut, a pelagic octopus that is found in tropical and sub-tropical waters worldwide. It may not be common for these egg cases to land on our beach, but it is surely possible for one to occasionally hitch a ride on the Gulf Stream and find its way to Ocracoke.

At any rate, here it is:

(Click on the photo to view a larger image.)

To learn more about the Argonaut and the Paper Nautilus, click here:

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter discusses place names on Ocracoke. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous4:24 PM

    This is fascinating. The answer popped into your head -- but where have you heard of such a thing??? You earn the Sherlock Holmes award for the day.

  2. Phillip,
    Again thank you for your research and posting the information about my shell.
    marci mason

  3. Anonymous6:46 AM

    Paper Nautilus

    Not many of us have ever seen a paper nautilus

    But at you leisure, it would be a pleasure, since a specimen is on display

    on the Island

    The Ocracoke Preservation Society museum

    has one


    of unspoken beauty

    delicate as porcelain

    for naught a generation of octopi

    have lost but the contributions to the body of knowledge in marine science is priceless

  4. Anonymous6:47 AM

    Gee whiz some of us can't wait til April. poetry monthy