Making a point: Shared mechanics underlying the diversity of biological puncture

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A viper injecting venom into a target, a mantis shrimp harpooning a fish, a cactus dispersing itself via spines attaching to passing mammals; all these are examples of biological puncture. Although disparate in terms of materials, kinematics and phylogeny, all three examples must adhere to the same set of fundamental physical laws that govern puncture mechanics. The diversity of biological puncture systems is a good case study for how physical laws can be used as a baseline for comparing disparate biological systems. In this Review, I explore the diversity of biological puncture and identify key variables that influence these systems. First, I explore recent work on biological puncture in a diversity of organisms, based on their hypothesized objectives: gripping, injection, damage and defence. Variation within each category is discussed, such as the differences between gripping for prey capture, gripping for dispersal of materials or gripping during reproduction. The second half of the Review is focused on specific physical parameters that influence puncture mechanics, such as material properties, stress, energy, speed and the medium within which puncture occurs. I focus on how these parameters have been examined in biology, and how they influence the evolution of biological systems. The ultimate objective of this Review is to outline an initial framework for examining the mechanics and evolution of puncture systems across biology. This framework will not only allow for broad biological comparisons, but also create a baseline for bioinspired design of both tools that puncture efficiently and materials that can resist puncture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • Diversity
  • Energy
  • Impact
  • Materials
  • Morphology
  • Puncture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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