Peter Ward, Paleontologist: The Ancient Nautilus

Length: 
7:55

As a paleontologist Peter Ward studied fossil nautiloids for years before he went to New Caledonia to see and trap living nautiloids. He’s interested in the adaptations that allowed this species to survive when all others died out. The tough nautilus shell protects the animal and its shell, designed for buoyancy, keeps pressure even so it can rise from the depths and descend again. Ward paints a picture of what life was like 500 million years ago when the first nautilus left the ocean floor. Ward is thrilled to try to see a nautilus rising from depths to feed on the reef on a night dive.

Next Generation Science Standards for this Video

The nautilus’ strong, chambered shell is beautifully designed to keep the animal buoyant as it moves up and down in the ocean.

Similarities with fossil molluscs and living ones show that millions of years ago the nautlioids, lifted off the bottom to become active predators on bottom dwelling animals.

Today the nautilus is like a living fossil because its well adapted body plan has changed little through the millennia. The nautilus has NOT become extinct perhaps because the place it lives, the deep sea, has not changed much over the millennia.

Peter Ward scuba dives to study the nautiluses in the wild and works in the lab to better understand how they function.

The nautilus’ strong, chambered shell is beautifully designed to keep the animal buoyant as it moves up and down in the ocean.

Scientist in this video

The history of life can be great theater. . . . The development of the gas-and liquid-filled chamber in the shell liberated the nautiloids from the sea bottom and set in motion an evolutionary history that is still unfolding today. -- Peter Ward