: Air tubes connecting the chambers, seen toward the center in this cutaway, allow the sea mollusk to float upright by filling compartments with gaseous water ions.

An Ocean of Artistry

A jewel among God’s sea creatures, the nautilus inhabits waters around coral reefs of the South Pacific and Indian oceans. Its unusual shell is spiraled and chambered, with a mother of pearl interior lining—a lovely touch by the Creator.

There is something about standing at the ocean’s edge that evokes a deep sense of awareness of the Creator. Maybe it’s the roar of a never-ending cascade of crashing waves, rolling circles of thunder so powerful and yet altogether graceful. Or perhaps it’s watching the sun as it dips below the horizon amidst a majestic display of colors—oh, how the heavens declare His glory! Indeed, it’s all too wonderful to be an accident; too awe-inspiring to be in vain ... and yet that is just the surface.

What lies beneath is an equally glorious display of God’s handiwork. There are mountain ranges scattered about the ocean floor, trenches up to 1,500 miles long and almost 7 miles deep, and creatures that would be reserved for the imagination if they didn’t actually exist. Take, for example, the mimic octopus. Not only can it disguise the color and texture of its skin to perfectly match inanimate objects such as a rock or the surrounding sand, but it can also mimic the appearance and mannerisms of other animals. In addition to creatures whose magnificence is obvious, the sea is also home to works of art that are a bit more subtle.

Tiger nautilus, top, are easily identified by the muted brown striping on  their shells. Each compartment in a nautilus shell, bottom, represents a growth period in its life.
Tiger nautilus, top, are easily identified by the muted brown striping on their shells. Each compartment in a nautilus shell, bottom, represents a growth period in its life.

Such is the nautilus. It’s a cephalopod, which means “head-foot” because its feet, or tentacles, are attached to its head. This is the same class of animals as cuttlefish, squid and octopuses, but the nautilus is the only cephalopod with a shell that’s completely developed and external. Not only does this make the nautilus unique in its own right, but the shell itself is quite remarkable. Marked with irregular light brown stripes against a backdrop of white, the shell’s outside is camouflaged through countershading. Used throughout nature, this characteristic helps animals blend in with background colors, making it difficult for predators to detect their prey—welcome protection if you’re a rather defenseless nautilus. Inside the shell, altogether different and even more impressive colors are seen. Here you’ll find a shimmery opalescent coating of nacre, also known as mother of pearl. It’s a beautiful reminder that, God has hidden remarkable treasures throughout His creation.

Another quality that makes the nautilus shell so unique is that it is sectioned off into chambers. Punctured by a line of narrow porous tubes, the chambers become buoys that float upright after gas is secreted from the tubes into the chambers. The nautilus propels itself by forcing out a jet of water, navigating as if it were a tiny submarine. This is important because the mollusk swims through waters shallow and deep in its travels.

An iridescent, mother of pearl surface develops on the area where the nautilus’ body emerges from the shell. The jewel-like finish that shines brilliantly after buffing is due to the surface’s high density of shallow grooves.
An iridescent, mother of pearl surface develops on the area where the nautilus’ body emerges from the shell. The jewel-like finish that shines brilliantly after buffing is due to the surface’s high density of shallow grooves.

Finally, of all the features of the shell, perhaps none is more remarkable than its elegant swirling shape. From the first moments of its life, a nautilus’ body is enclosed within a shell that spirals around in splendid precision. As it matures, it generates successively larger chambers, the animal moving from one to the next as it grows. With each move, the nautilus seals off the chamber it leaves behind.

Amazingly, each chamber is angled in such a way so as to maintain the equiangular, or logarithmic, spiral growth pattern. This spiral is unique. While the size of the spiral increases, its shape remains the same with each successive curve. This type of spiral was first studied by René Descartes in 1638, and later by Jacob Bernoulli, who was so enamored by it that he dubbed it Spira mirabilis, meaning “the marvelous spiral.” In 1942, Sir D’arcy Wentworth Thompson recognized this growth pattern in shells and expressed it as a mathematical equation. Not surprisingly, this curve is seen throughout nature—from broccoli and sunflowers to the arms of galaxies and hurricanes.

God is the great architect who wrote the laws of nature into every atom, the loving Father who places the treasure of life in each of His children, the masterful artist who paints a brilliant sky every morning. As the Scripture says, all things were created by Him, and for Him, both visible and invisible. Whether we find ourselves standing at the ocean’s edge or considering any one of the creatures that lie just below, we can be sure of one thing—the work of the Creator’s hands are never in vain.