Letter | Published:

How the Venus flytrap snaps

Nature volume 433, pages 421425 (27 January 2005) | Download Citation



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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We thank F. Shindler for the illustrations in Fig. 2. We acknowledge support via the Norwegian Research Council (J.M.S.) and the Schlumberger Chair Fund (L.M.) at Cambridge University, where this work was begun and primarily done.

Author information


  1. IUSTI CNRS, Université de Provence, 5 rue Enrico Fermi, 13453 Marseille Cedex 13, France

    • Yoël Forterre
  2. Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 0WA, UK

    • Jan M. Skotheim
  3. Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University Biological Laboratories, 16 Divinity Avenue, and

    • Jacques Dumais
    •  & L. Mahadevan
  4. Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Pierce Hall, 29 Oxford Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Jan M. Skotheim
    •  & L. Mahadevan


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Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to L. Mahadevan.

Supplementary information


  1. 1.

    Supplementary Video

    Kinematic measurements of snapping were carried out on videos filmed at 400 frames s-1. Here we show a representative video of leaf closure filmed at the slightly lower speed of 125 frames s-1 and played back at 30 frames s-1.

Word documents

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Methods

    This section includes (a) details of the strain-field measurement technique, (b) experiments and results regarding the response of the leaf tissue to impulsive and step loads, (c) details of our poroelastic model for the dynamics of leaf closure, and (d) a summary of our notation.

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Figure 1

    This figure presents typical measurements of the local strain field associated with leaf closure, determined using the replica technique.

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Figure 2

    This figure shows the response of a strip of the closed leaf to impulse and step loads. The results are consistent with the simple estimate of the inertial and relaxation times in the main text of the paper.

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