From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The chambered nautilus, Nautilus pompilius, is the best-known species of nautilus. The shell, when cut away reveals a lining of lustrous nacre and displays a nearly perfect equiangular spiral, although it is not a golden spiral.Template:Citation needed (lead) The shell exhibits countershading, being light on the bottom and dark on top. This is to help avoid predators because when seen from above, it blends in with the darkness of the sea, and when seen from below, it blends in with the light coming from above.
The chambered nautilus has more primitive eyes than some other cephalopods; the eye has no lens and thus is comparable to a pinhole camera. The species has about 90 tentacles with no suckers, which is also different from other cephalopods. Chambered nautiluses have a pair of rhinophores, which detect chemicals, and use olfaction and chemotaxis in order to find their food.
In literature and art
Nautilus shells were popular items in the Renaissance cabinet of curiosities and were often mounted by goldsmiths on a thin stem to make extravagant nautilus shell cups, like the Burghley Nef, mainly intended as decorations rather than for use. Small natural history collections were common in mid-19th century Victorian homes, and chambered nautilus shells were popular decorations.
The chambered nautilus is the title and subject of a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, in which he admires the "ship of pearl" and the "silent toil/That spread his lustrous coil/Still, as the spiral grew/He left the past year's dwelling for the new." He finds in the mysterious life and death of the nautilus strong inspiration for his own life and spiritual growth. He concludes:
- Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
- As the swift seasons roll!
- Leave thy low-vaulted past!
- Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
- Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
- Till thou at length art free,
- Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!
A painting by Andrew Wyeth, entitled "Chambered Nautilus," shows a woman in a canopied bed; the composition and proportions of the bed and the window behind it mirror those of a chambered nautilus lying on a nearby table.