Universal elastic mechanism for stinger design


Living organisms use stingers that vary in length L over eight orders of magnitude, from a few tens of nanometres to several metres, across a wide array of biological taxa. Despite the extreme variation in size, their structures are strikingly similar. However, the mechanism responsible for this remarkable morphological convergence remains unknown. Using basic physical arguments and biomimetic experiments, we reveal an optimal design strategy that links their length, base diameter d0, Young’s modulus E and friction force per unit area μp0. This principle can be framed simply as \({d}_{0} \approx {(\mu {p}_{0}/E)}^{1/3}L\). Existing data from measurements on viruses, algae, marine invertebrates, terrestrial invertebrates, plants, terrestrial vertebrates, marine vertebrates—as well as man-made objects such as nails, needles and weapons—are consistent with our predictions. Our results highlight the evolutionary adaptation of mechanical traits to the constraints imposed by friction, elastic stability and cost.

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Fig. 1: Stinger morphology.
Fig. 2: Buckling experiments.
Fig. 3: Stinger design principle.
Fig. 4: Universal elastic mechanism for stinger design.

Data availability

Source data are available in Supplementary Table 1. All other data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Change history

  • 15 July 2020

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.


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This work was supported by two research grants (17587 and 13166) from Villum Fonden.

Author information




K.H.J. designed the research. A.H.C. and K.H.J. derived the model. K.S.H., K.P. and J.K. performed experiments. K.H.J., K.P. and J.K. collected and analysed data. K.H.J. wrote the manuscript with support from K.P. and J.K.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kaare H. Jensen.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Physics thanks Douglas Holmes, Hamed Rajabi and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Fig. 1, Table 1 and refs. 1–55.

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Jensen, K.H., Knoblauch, J., Christensen, A.H. et al. Universal elastic mechanism for stinger design. Nat. Phys. (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41567-020-0930-9

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