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A new approach using high-resolution computed tomography to test the buoyant properties of chambered cephalopod shells

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 February 2015

Robert Lemanis
Institute of Geology Mineralogy, and Geophysics, Ruhr Universität Bochum, Bochum 44801, Germany. E-mail:,
Stefan Zachow
Department of Scientific Visualization and Data Analysis, Zuse Institute, Berlin 14195, Germany. E-mail:
Florian Fusseis
School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, U.K. E-mail:
René Hoffmann
Institute of Geology Mineralogy, and Geophysics, Ruhr Universität Bochum, Bochum 44801, Germany. E-mail:,


The chambered shell of modern cephalopods functions as a buoyancy apparatus, allowing the animal to enter the water column without expending a large amount of energy to overcome its own weight. Indeed, the chambered shell is largely considered a key adaptation that allowed the earliest cephalopods to leave the ocean floor and enter the water column. It has been argued by some, however, that the iconic chambered shell of Paleozoic and Mesozoic ammonoids did not provide a sufficiently buoyant force to compensate for the weight of the entire animal, thus restricting ammonoids to a largely benthic lifestyle reminiscent of some octopods. Here we develop a technique using high-resolution computed tomography to quantify the buoyant properties of chambered shells without reducing the shell to ideal spirals or eliminating inherent biological variability by using mathematical models that characterize past work in this area. This technique has been tested on Nautilus pompilius and is now extended to the extant deep-sea squid Spirula spirula and the Jurassic ammonite Cadoceras sp. hatchling. Cadoceras is found to have possessed near-neutral to positive buoyancy if hatched when the shell possessed between three and five chambers. However, we show that the animal could also overcome degrees of negative buoyancy through swimming, similar to the paralarvae of modern squids. These calculations challenge past inferences of benthic life habits based solely on calculations of negative buoyancy. The calculated buoyancy of Cadoceras supports the possibility of planktonic dispersal of ammonite hatchlings. This information is essential to understanding ammonoid ecology as well as biotic interactions and has implications for the interpretation of geochemical data gained from the isotopic analysis of the shell.

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