Effective January 2, 2017: The entire family of chambered nautiluses (Nautilidae), which includes two species from the genus Allonautilus (A. perforatus and A. scrobiculatus) and five species from the genus Nautilus (N. belauensis, N. macromphalus, N. pompilius, N. repertus, and N.stenomplahus), has been listed in CITES Appendix II. This means that CITES documentation will be required for import and re-export of these species and items made from them. 

Information to assist in complying with U.S. CITES regulations is available for commercial traders.

International Research Interesting Facts about Nautiluses Kids Take Action for Nautilus

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Chambered Nautilus Species
Laws & Regulations
Threats & Conservation Status

Chambered nautiluses
 (Allonautilus and Nautilus species) are the only living descendants of a group of ocean creatures that thrived in the seas 500 million years ago when the earth’s continents were still forming. They are even older than the dinosaurs! Chambered nautiluses are known as living fossils because they have remained virtually unchanged for millions of years.

Among the last representatives of the ancient lineages of cephalopods (animals with no backbones but with tentacles or arms), chambered nautiluses are easily distinguished from their closest living relatives -- the octopus, squid, and cuttlefish -- by their distinctive external coiled shells. A feat in molluscan evolution, the internal chambers of their shell provide a buoyancy mechanism to facilitate movement that inspired the inventor of the earliest modern submarine to name the invention “Nautilus.”

These marine mollusks are found in the coastal reefs around Southeast Asia and Australia, including the U.S. territory of American Samoa. Chambered nautiluses grow slowly, maturing around 10-15 years of age. They produce a small number of eggs that require at least a year-long incubation period. These deep-sea scavengers spend much of their time hovering along the reef at depths of 100-300 meters (330-990 feet), dangling their tentacles as they move along in search of food. They have up to 90 retractable, suckerless tentacles with grooves that secrete mucous to help in obtaining food and attaching to the reef face when resting.

Chambered Nautilus Species

Scientific Name

Common Name

Allonautilus scrobiculatus

Crusty nautilus or King nautilus

Allonautilus perforatus

Indonesian nautilus

Nautilus belauensis

Palau nautilus

Nautilus macromphalus

Bellybutton nautilus

Nautilus pompilius

Emperor nautilus or Pearly nautilus

Nautilus repertus


Nautilus stenomphalus

White-patch nautilus

Taxonomic Classification
Phylum: Mollusca
Clss:    Cephalopoda
Order:    Nautilida
Family:   Nautilidae

**Effective January 2, 2017, the family Nautilidae is protected under Appendix II of CITES.**

Laws & Regulations

Nautilus in the Wild. Credit: USFWS

At the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), held in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2016, the entire family of chambered nautiluses (Nautilidae) was listed on Appendix-II of the treaty.

The United States, along with Fiji, India, and Palau, submitted the proposal to protect these species and worked closely with other countries and non-governmental organizations to gain support for the Appendix II-listing proposal.

Read the proposal we submitted to include the Family Nautilidae in Appendix II at CoP17 and  the 2-page fact sheets about the proposal, available in English, French, and Spanish

As of January 2, 2017, the listings have gone into effect and CITES documentation will be required for import and export of these species and items made from them. Information on how to comply with the U.S. CITES regulations is available for commercial traders.

Read our blog to learn about the events leading up to CoP17.

Learn more about the outcomes of CoP17.

Threats & Conservation Status

Harvested primarily for their beautiful shells, and not as a source of food, chambered nautiluses are sold as souvenirs to tourists and shell collectors, and as jewelry and home decoration items. Living animals are taken for public aquariums and research. The reef habitat where they live is also subject to pollution, destruction, and degradation and coral reefs are prone to being overfished for a variety of reef species that live there.

Yet, chambered nautilus biology does not lend itself to recovering from overfishing or adjusting to habitat destruction. These are slow-growing marine invertebrates – they take 15-20 years to reach maturity. They also lay only one egg at a time and they produce a small number of eggs annually that take about 1 year to incubate that swim along the ocean reef. They do not swim in the open ocean and cannot move between habitats that are separated by deep ocean.

The primary threats to family Nautilidae include:

• targeted, market-driven harvest for international trade in their shells;
• habitat degradation throughout much of their range;
• predation by bony fishes, octopus, and possibly sharks; and 
• risks associated with ecotourism.

Given their slow growth, late maturity, low reproductive output, and low mobility, chambered nautiluses are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. These threats make it difficult for them to recover from overharvest or catastrophic events.
Research scientists have had little success breeding these animals in captivity; eggs will hatch but the young do not live long enough to reach maturity. Little is known about nautilus populations in the wild. The very first population estimate was made only in 2010.

Watch a chambered nautilus and its unique way of moving in this video from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

A chambered nautilus. Credit: Klaus Stiefel / Creative CommonsPhoto by Klaus Stiefel / Creative Commons

Interesting Facts about Chambered Nautiluses

Chambered nautiluses are bottom scavengers and eat shrimp and crabs, but their diet in the wild is largely unstudied. They are nocturnal, making daily migrations up and down the
continental shelf. Their up to 90 tentacles do not sting their prey, but stick to it.

Natural predators of nautilus include the octopus, which can bore a hole right through the nautilus’ shell to reach its soft body parts in the outermost chamber. Teleost fish, such as triggerfish and grouper, prey on nautilus in shallow waters, and other species such as sharks and snappers may also prey on nautilus.

The nautilus shell appears front and center on the emblem of New Caledonia. Nautilus jewelry figured strongly in Australian aboriginal culture both for bartering and was incorporated into hunter-gatherer folklore.

International Research

Toward a better understanding of the Impacts of Trade on Chambered Nautiluses

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service have collaborated with range countries and species experts for several years, contributing funding to research that would help us better understand chambered nautilus biology and the effects of harvest and international trade. See more about our efforts and results.

Learning more about Chambered Nautilus Populations/Biology

For population research, we signed a Cooperative Agreement with the University of Washington (Seattle, Washington) to enlist the services veteran nautilus expert, Dr. Peter Ward, and fellow researcher Dr. Andrew Dunstan (currently of Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Australia) to conduct population and livelihood research in four locations (American Samoa, Fiji, Australia, and the Philippines).  The aims were to estimate population sizes, to understand the importance of chambered nautilus harvesting to local fisheries, and to evaluate the effects of fishing by comparing fished and unfished populations.  None of the research methods involved intentional killing of any chambered nautiluses and the non-lethal trapping and research methods were designed to minimize disturbance and incidental mortality. The research protocol was very similar to that used by Dunstan when he formulated the first chambered nautilus population estimate in 2010. Fieldwork began in 2012 at a location where commercial nautilus fishing has occurred (the Philippines) and three other locations where no commercial fishing has occurred (American Samoa, Fiji, Australia). Among the findings were that chambered nautiluses have low population numbers even where they have never been commercially harvested and that the meat of chambered nautiluses is not considered an important food source to local populations.

Results: Comparative Population Assessments of Nautilus sp. in the Philippines, Australia, Fiji, and American Samoa Using Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems (2014)

Investigating the Impact of International Trade

The World Wildlife Fund, Inc.-TRAFFIC North America conducted a year-long trade study to gather data on the levels of exploitation and the extent of global trade. Prior to the CITES listing, there were no global statistics on the extent of trade in chambered nautiluses, although trade has been reported on nearly every continent. The goal of this project was to obtain information on and characterize the dynamics and levels of trade both where the animals are harvested and where the products are sold. The focal countries for harvest research were the Philippines and Indonesia and destination countries studied included the United States, Europe and China. The report demonstrated that harvest and trade of chambered nautiluses was poorly regulated and that the United States was among the major importers and re-exporters of chambered nautilus products [and called for better monitoring of international trade in chambered nautiluses].
Results: An investigation into the trade of Nautilus (2016)

Working with Species Experts

NOAA Fisheries and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held a joint workshop that brought together many of the leading chambered nautilus researchers to discuss biological trends and trade data. Through eight presentations, participants explored present and historical population information and the impacts of international trade on wild populations. Discussions covered a range of topics, including population estimates, laboratory studies, demographics, life history characteristics, captive breeding, and trade trends.

Results: Chambered Nautilus Experts Workshop Report Summary (2014)

Visit the NOAA Fisheries chambered nautilus website for more information on U.S. research to assess the impact of harvest and international trade on these iconic species and useful links to news and information.

"Nautilus Girl" Gretchen Grooge wears a nautilus Halloween costume. Credit: Courtney Googe

"Nautilus Girl" Gretchen Grooge wears a nautilus
Halloween costume.
Credit: Courtney Googe

Kids Take Action for Nautilus

Save the Nautilus is a non-profit organization, started by some inspiring young conservationists that is dedicated to conserving and funding for chambered nautilus research.

See their video blog of their amazing adventure when they traveled to American Samoa with researchers for a week of chambered nautilus population studies!

Read our blog about Gretchen Googe, the Nautilus Girl, and her enthusiastic work to raise awareness these amazing creatures.