Life at the Limits: Go See a Live Nautilus at the American Museum of Natural History

by Owen James Burke


The Nautilus (Nautilidae). Photo: AskNature/ TB Smith.

“Jet propulsion seems very modern, but it’s actually ancient,” writes the American Museum of Natural History. The nautilus, the shelled cephalopod that inspired Jules Verne, has been using jet propulsion for, well, longer than we can really say.

Life at the Limits, the American Museum of Natural History’s new exhibit, explores the more sophisticated anatomies of the natural world, including the superior sensory organs and locomotive functions of many marine critters. Oh, and there’s a live nautilus, just to show you how it’s done.


Above: The business end of a sawfish (Pristidae). Photo: ©AMNH/R. Mickens.

Sawfish, or carpenter sharks, are obviously named for their toothy, protruding snouts, but like all sharks, hidden on the underside of their schnoz is a field of electrosensory pores called ampullae of Lorenzini, which can lead the fish to food by detecting weak electric fields emitted by nearby prey.


Above: A few of the 100 glistening eyes of the scallop. Photo: Wikimedia/Rachael Norris and Marina Freudzon.

Scallops, like other bivalves, are headless, but that doesn’t stop them from having eyes–nearly 100 of them. The scallop’s mantle, or the fleshy gasket that lines the edge of a bivalve’s shell, is uniquely lined with eyes, each equipped with their own retina and lens, allowing them to survey their surroundings whenever their shells are open.

Read more about the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibit, Life at the Limits, which is open through January 3, 2016. -OJB

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