Fluid dynamics of ballistic strategies in nematocyst firing

Christina Hamlet, Wanda Strychalski, Laura Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Nematocysts are stinging organelles used by members of the phylum Cnidaria (e.g., jellyfish, anemones, hydrozoans) for a variety of important functions including capturing prey and defense. Nematocysts are the fastest-known accelerating structures in the animal world. The small scale (microns) coupled with rapid acceleration (in excess of 5 million g) present significant challenges in imaging that prevent detailed descriptions of their kinematics. The immersed boundary method was used to numerically simulate the dynamics of a barb-like structure accelerating a short distance across Reynolds numbers ranging from 0.9-900 towards a passive elastic target in two dimensions. Results indicate that acceleration followed by coasting at lower Reynolds numbers is not sufficient for a nematocyst to reach its target. The nematocyst's barb-like projectile requires high accelerations in order to transition to the inertial regime and overcome the viscous damping effects normally encountered at small cellular scales. The longer the barb is in the inertial regime, the higher the final velocity of the projectile when it touches its target. We find the size of the target prey does not dramatically affect the barb's approach for large enough values of the Reynolds number, however longer barbs are able to accelerate a larger amount of surrounding fluid, which in turn allows the barb to remain in the inertial regime for a longer period of time. Since the final velocity is proportional to the force available for piercing the membrane of the prey, high accelerations that allow the system to persist in the inertial regime have implications for the nematocyst's ability to puncture surfaces such as cellular membranes or even crustacean cuticle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Biofluids
  • Immersed boundary method
  • Intermediate Reynolds number
  • Mathematical biology
  • Nematocyst
  • Prey capture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes


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