Homoclinic bifurcation

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A homoclinic bifurcation is a global bifurcation which often occurs when a periodic orbit collides with a saddle point.

The image below shows a phase portrait before, at, and after a homoclinic bifurcation in 2D. The periodic orbit grows until it collides with the saddle point. At the bifurcation point the period of the periodic orbit has grown to infinity and it has become a homoclinic orbit. After the bifurcation there is no longer a periodic orbit.

A homoclinic bifurcation occurs when a periodic orbit collides with a saddle point. Left panel: For small parameter values, there is a saddle point at the origin and a limit cycle in the first quadrant. Middle panel: As the bifurcation parameter increases, the limit cycle grows until it exactly intersects the saddle point, yielding an orbit of infinite duration. Right panel: When the bifurcation parameter increases further, the limit cycle disappears completely.

Homoclinic bifurcations can occur supercritically or subcritically. The variant above is the "small" or "type I" homoclinic bifurcation. In 2D there is also the "big" or "type II" homoclinic bifurcation in which the homoclinic orbit "traps" the other ends of the unstable and stable manifolds of the saddle. In three or more dimensions, higher codimension bifurcations can occur, producing complicated, possibly chaotic dynamics.


  • Strogatz, Steven H. (1994). Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos. Addison-Wesley. p. 262. ISBN 0-201-54344-3.