Monday, December 21, 2015

[Cephalopoda • 2010] The Argonaut Shell: Gas-mediated Buoyancy Control in A Pelagic Octopus

Figure 2. Behavioural stages (a–d) by which a female argonaut (Argonauta argo) attains neutral buoyancy, Okidomari Harbour, Sea of Japan.
 Illustrations: Julian Finn/Kate Nolan. Photos: Julian Finn.  DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0155


Argonauts (Cephalopoda: Argonautidae) are a group of rarely encountered open-ocean pelagic octopuses with benthic ancestry. Female argonauts inhabit a brittle ‘paper nautilus’ shell, the role of which has puzzled naturalists for millennia. The primary role attributed to the shell has been as a receptacle for egg deposition and brooding. Our observations of wild argonauts have revealed that the thin calcareous shell also functions as a hydrostatic structure, employed by the female argonaut to precisely control buoyancy at varying depths. Female argonauts use the shell to ‘gulp’ a measured volume of air at the sea surface, seal off the captured gas using flanged arms and forcefully dive to a depth where the compressed gas buoyancy counteracts body weight. This process allows the female argonaut to attain neutral buoyancy at depth and potentially adjust buoyancy to counter the increased (and significant) weight of eggs during reproductive periods. Evolution of this air-capture strategy enables this negatively buoyant octopus to survive free of the sea floor. This major shift in life mode from benthic to pelagic shows strong evolutionary parallels with the origins of all cephalopods, which attained gas-mediated buoyancy via the closed-chambered shells of the true nautiluses and their relatives.

Julian K. Finn and Mark D. Norman. 2015. The Argonaut Shell: Gas-mediated Buoyancy Control in A Pelagic Octopus. Proc. R. Soc. B. 277(1696); 2967–2971. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0155

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