Letters to Nature

Nature 433, 421-425 (27 January 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature03185; Received 20 June 2004; Accepted 12 November 2004

How the Venus flytrap snaps

Yoël Forterre1, Jan M. Skotheim2,4, Jacques Dumais3 & L. Mahadevan3,4

  1. IUSTI CNRS, Université de Provence, 5 rue Enrico Fermi, 13453 Marseille Cedex 13, France
  2. Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 0WA, UK
  3. Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University Biological Laboratories, 16 Divinity Avenue, and
  4. Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Pierce Hall, 29 Oxford Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

Correspondence to: L. Mahadevan3,4 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to L.M. (Email: lm@deas.harvard.edu).

The rapid closure of the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) leaf in about 100 ms is one of the fastest movements in the plant kingdom. This led Darwin to describe the plant as "one of the most wonderful in the world"1. The trap closure is initiated by the mechanical stimulation of trigger hairs. Previous studies2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 have focused on the biochemical response of the trigger hairs to stimuli and quantified the propagation of action potentials in the leaves. Here we complement these studies by considering the post-stimulation mechanical aspects of Venus flytrap closure. Using high-speed video imaging, non-invasive microscopy techniques and a simple theoretical model, we show that the fast closure of the trap results from a snap-buckling instability, the onset of which is controlled actively by the plant. Our study identifies an ingenious solution to scaling up movements in non-muscular engines and provides a general framework for understanding nastic motion in plants.

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