March 2018

Nautilus, Beautiful Survivor, 500 Million Years of Evolutionary History
Wolfgang Grulke ; 1st ed., 2016
At One Communications, United Kingdom. Hardcover; 224 pp.

The Chambered Nautilus

Nautilus, Beautiful Survivor, 500 Million Years of Evolutionary History, 1st ed., 2016, Wolfgang Grulke; At One Communications, United Kingdom. Hardcover; 224 pp. Nautilus, Beautiful Survivor carries a recommendation from the Geological Society of London. Nautilus, Beautiful Survivor includes a listing of photo and art credits and a listing of the collections that housed the specimens photographed for the book. The book also includes a folded insert illustrating the Nautilus family tree (a smaller version appears on page 13). This chart covers the Triassic through to today. The author has made this chart a free download for educational purposes at (You can also purchase the book from this website). I purchased Nautilus, Beautiful Survivor through Amazon for $60.00. A signed boxed edition limited to 100 copies is also available for $160.00 through Amazon.

Nautilus, Beautiful Survivor is a follow-up book to Grulke’s heteromorph ammonite book published in 2014, Heteromorph, The Rarest Fossil Ammonites, Nature at its Most Bizarre, reviewed here in April of 2016.

In Heteromorph, Grulke is listed as an author and business man living in Osborne, Dorset in the U.K. Doing a Google search produced much more about Grulke. Now retired, he spent 25 years with IBM and is known for his books on innovation and the future. He is listed as Chairman Emeritus of Futureworld International Ltd. Besides his business related experience, he has expertise in paleontology and marine biology. Grulke has published on ammonites from Madagascar in African Natural History, Vol 3, 2007.

The cover photo of Nautilus, Beautiful Survivor may surprise you. What at first appears as a striking modern Nautilus pompilus, familiar to most everyone, is actually a species named Allonautilus perforatus. Allonautilus is a rare genus that tentatively diverged from Nautilus near the end of the Pliocene. Along the bottom edge of the cover is a collage of smaller photos of both fossil and modern Nautiloids.

Nautilus, Beautiful Survivor begins with an introductory chapter. Here Grulke describes his work on Nautilus. He also intertwines the significance of the animals with details of the fascination with the beauty, geometry and historical significance of these animals. Later in the book he provides more detail on art inspired by the natural beauty of the Nautilus.

In a chapter called The Nautilus Family, Grulke introduces the reader to the cephalopod family contrasting similarities and differences between them. He then moves to more specifics about Nautilus. In a chart of cephalopod evolution, Nautilida (the Family to which Nautilus belongs) originate in the early Devonian having diverged from the Orthocerida. The Orthocerids of course had their beginnings in the Ordovician. Information presented by Grulke here about the living Nautilus is fascinating. For example, a newly hatched Nautilus is already 25 mm in diameter with seven internal chambers. A mature Nautilus can have up to 36 chambers and live for more than 20 years. Nautilus animals have no suckers on their arms but the arms themselves are very adhesive in nature. These animals are typically scavengers rather than hunters and the molted carapaces of lobsters are a favorite food source.

A historical look at modern Nautilus takes the reader all the way back to Aristotle. Previously known only from the shells, it wasn’t until the 19th century that a live Nautilus was actually seen. To further illustrate the fascination with Nautilus, an 1845 portrait of famous British paleontologist Sir Richard Owen shows him holding a Nautilus shell in his left hand while a preserved specimen is seen in a glass jar next to his right hand. That preserved specimen still exists in the collections of the British Museum (Natural History).

In 1894 the University of Cambridge along with additional sponsorship from the Royal Society funded explorer Arthur Willey in an effort to research the living Nautilus. This research expedition took Willey all over the South Pacific from 1894 through 1899. His monograph on the subject was published in 1902. In Nautilus, Beautiful Survivor, Grulke recounts the expedition in Willey’s own words in 14 pages that gives the reader an inside look at what it was like in the great age of exploration. Grulke continues with the history of research through the 20th century and into the 21st.

In a chapter entitled, Today: A Precarious Balance, Gruilke discusses the current situation with living Nautilus. The shells of these animals have always been a desirable collector’s item. Native populations in the South Pacific have had cottage industries collecting them for sale. Not being content to gather dead floating shells they actually trap live Nautilus in order to obtain shells in better condition. So, is the human penchant for wanting to possess all natural things of beauty driving Nautilus to extinction? According to Grulke, probably not as the market may be fairly saturated with most people who want these shells already possessing them. With the market diminishing and the cost associated with collection fairly high, fewer people are actually collecting them. From a genetic standpoint, the seven recognized species of Nautilus exhibit sufficient physical differences to be deemed separate species. However, in 2016, DNA analysis was done on these species with the results indicating they are actually all genetically only one species. This would be excellent news for the future of Nautilus in that the genetic variations that produced these regional physical differences could eventually lead to divergent new species. Grulke’s opinion is that Nautilus appears to be doing quite well with no fear of extinction from collecting pressures.

The next seventy pages in Nautilus, Beautiful Survivor covers pre-history and the fossil record. This entire section is organized by geologic age beginning with the Cambrian. Much ground is covered here beginning with fossilization processes and preservation. In discussing shell forms, Grulke points out that variation in form indicates lifestyle. Nautiloids did have some strange forms although not as bizarre as some of the Ammonoids. Ordovician Ascocerids and Oncocerids are illustrated as examples of these odd forms.

As he did in Heteromorph, Grulke includes a chapter on Art and Design. Included here are both historic and modern art either using actual Nautilus shells or basing art or architecture on the Nautiloid form. The coverage begins in the Renaissance. By the 17th century, well to do individuals began collections of interesting and beautiful objects in their “Cabinets of Curiosities” including the Nautilus. Grulke illustrates much of the art from early natural history books, carved Nautilus shells, shells mounted in precious metals as art objects and used as goblets. Many of these art objects are non-utilitarian works of beauty in their own right.

Grulke ends with a chapter entitled, Behind the Scenes, in which he discusses the making of this book. Here he credits the many scientists and artists who contributed to making the book possible. Each person receives a biographical sketch and how they contributed.

One of the interesting stories related involves the efforts to collect nautiloids sporting strange long spines projecting off the sides of the shell from the umbilicus. Apparently a few have been found ranging from the Devonian to the Upper Jurassic.

I can highly recommend Nautilus, Beautiful Survivor to anyone interested in these creatures. Because of the illustrations, some might want to call this a coffee table book. It goes far beyond that with the accompanying text and scientific work presented.

Readability - High school to undergrad.

On the Upside - Excellent photographs of beautiful specimens. Scientifically accurate descriptions and analysis. Reasonably priced considering the high quality images and content. Every page has outstanding illustrations including photographs, drawings or artists renderings.

On the Downside - Many but not all of the specimens illustrated, both fossil and modern, are in private collections.

Overall Rating - This is well worth procuring for the personal library of anyone interested in the nautiloids.

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