The Rarest Creature on Earth: Slimy Nautilus, Thought Extinct, Reappears


A noted biologist catches a glimpse of a super-rare mollusc twice in his life – thirty years apart.

You have a better chance at being struck by lightning twice; or winning the lotto on your birthday. Marine biologist Peter Ward, it seems, is just a very lucky guy: he has caught a glimpse of the extremely elusive, supposedly extinct, Allonautilus scobiculatus twice in his life. The first time was in 1984, more than 30 years ago.

“This could be the rarest animal in the world,” says Ward. Indeed: nautiluses (or nautili) are already an uncommon sight, and they are thought to be going extinct the world over.

Nautiluses are considered living fossils – they have shown up in the fossil record, unchanged from their modern incarnation, for more than half a billion years. They’re the paleontology equivalent of that photograph from the end of the Shining.

We’re usually pretty happy when things don’t look just like they did back then.

Sometime before than half-billion mark, they separated from their distant cousins, who went on to become squid and adorable octopuses.

Ward found the creature in Papua New Guinea, home to a few species of nautilus, not to mention about 7% of the world’s biodiversity. He and his team baited a stick with fish and chicken meat in order to study nautilus populations, and who should show up but Allonautilus!

In the gallery below you can compare the Allonautilus to a fellow nautilus, the more common Nautilus pompilius. The latter has more white on its shell, while our rarer friend is covered with furry, yellow slime, one of its most distinguishing features.

According to the researchers, they also attracted a hungry sunfish, that tried to get the spiral-shelled molluscs out of the way. “For the next two hours, the sunfish just kept whacking them with its tail.” It must be so annoying to have a sunfish as your neighbor.

Source: CNet, University of Washington

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