Have You Found a Paper Nautilus?

by BeachHunter on January 2, 2013

paper nautilus

This paper nautilus was found on New Smyrna Beach by Terry England.

A few days ago I received an email with a request for information about the Paper Nautilus “shell.” Dinah Voyles Pulver was writing an article for the Daytona Beach News Journal about Debbie Brokaw, an early morning beachcomber who chanced to find a completely intact Paper nautilus. I offered Dinah some information about the relative rarity of finding one of these on the beach, and she kindly mentioned my web site address in her article.

Within hours I received emails from two readers of the News Journal (Terry England and Terri McDaniel), each with photos of something they’d found on the beach that resembled the Paper nautilus. I confirmed the I.D., and requested permission to publish one set of the photos, which you see here. They were taken by Terry England, who found the nautilus while walking on the beach near Ponce Inlet on New Smyrna Beach right before Christmas 2012.

paper nautilus photo copyright Terry England

Paper nautilus found on New Smyrna Beach by Terry England.

The Paper nautilus is actually not a proper shell at all, but is the egg case of the argonaut octopus. The argonaut is a pelagic creature, which means it spends its life in the open ocean. Oddly, this octopus lives near the surface of the sea. It tends its eggs, using the beautiful shell to protect them. There is also evidence that the shell is used to trap air which helps the octopus regulate its buoyancy.

It is not common to find a Paper nautilus on the beach, mainly because the shell is so thin and fragile that they usually don’t survive the long trip from the open ocean to the beach, though I suspect that they are found more often than is realized.

More nautilus shells found:


Paper Nautilus found in Ponce, Florida

This paper nautilus was found by Rick Santomauros on the beach at low tide north of Ponce Inlet in Volusia County, Florida. It was found just north of the Beach Street ramp on 1/10/2013.


Paper Nautilus found on Ormond Beach January 25, 2013

Patricia Whitfield, vacationing from Canada, found this paper nautilus on Ormond Beach this morning, January 25, 2013. She also found the Argonaut octopus which makes the shell.

This is the argonaut octopus found by Patricia Whitfield on Ormond Beach, FL in late January 2013.

This is the Argonaut octopus found by Patricia Whitfield on Ormond Beach, FL in late January 2013.

Ken Fisher found the Paper Nautilus in the photo below on New Smyrna Beach February 1, 2013:


Paper Nautilus found by Ken Fisher in the New Smyrna Beach area on February 1, 2013.

Paper Nautilus found by Ken Fisher in the New Smyrna Beach area on February 1, 2013.


Links to more info on other web sites below:

Here are some great photos of the argonaut octopus with the shell.

Here’s a great blog post by my friend Marge, if you’re not so much a scientist, but prefer a more poetic description of the argonaut’s beauty.

Follow this link if you want to see the cool things scientists have discovered about the argonaut.

Click this link if you want to see a bunch of pictures of the argonaut.

If you’re more into video:

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jackson Dunes January 2, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I’ve found 3 paper nautilus here in Delray Beach (an hour north of Miami). The first two were found at the water line, one in the morning, the second later that same day at dusk. The third was found the following morning. Two are in perfect condition and one is a little broken. Mine are easily 3-4 times bigger than the ones shown in your photo.

It’s amazing to think how they don’t get mashed in the surf. I’m pretty sure that I’ve posted about them (including photos) on my blog:
and also on my Facebook page:

2 Jackson Dunes January 2, 2013 at 9:58 pm

As requested here’s the piece I wrote about the paper nautilus I found on Delray Beach.

3 Suzy Pappas January 3, 2013 at 8:34 am

Hi David, I was lucky enough, after 30 years of searching, to find a small, intact paper nautilus on the rocky, eastern shore of a barrier island in Biscayne National Park., Florida. I was conducting a shoreline cleanup of plastic, glass, and Styrofoam when I did a “double-take” on what first registered in my brain as just another piece of broken, white plastic. I was so thrilled to find it! I gently placed the paper nautilus inside a hard-sided Pelican case that I always carry in my backpack, and transported my treasure safely back home to its permanent spot on a shelf in my living room. It is one of my favorite beach-combed treasures.

4 leon vermeulen June 26, 2014 at 3:45 pm

we found the shell daily in Jeffreys bay south Africa been washed out on to the beach. i got about 300n to sell in all sizes if any one is interested me know

5 Ross July 22, 2014 at 11:55 am

Hi. I found five (5) Paper Nautilus on two beaches in Oman (Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean) more than 10 years ago. They have been stored wrapped in cotton wool. Now I want to display them and am wondering if there is any special way of maintaining them, I.e. brush them with oil so they don’t dry out? I can send photos if you wish.
Muscat, Oman

6 BeachHunter July 23, 2014 at 8:33 pm

Hi Ross, I don’t know the answer to your question. You should contact a shelling expert. If you can’t find any specific information, probably a light coating of mineral oil would work, as it would with any other shell.

7 Scott & Shannon Britton February 8, 2015 at 10:52 pm

We found a Paper Nautilus February 7th 2015 on Cape Canaveral National Seashore at low tide. After searching online for over an hour we were finally able to identify our rare find and stumbled upon your blog. Many thanks!

8 BeachHunter February 8, 2015 at 11:35 pm

Awesome! Thanks for stopping by and letting us know. You’re lucky!

Leave a Comment