Cell poking, a new method for measuring mechanical properties of single cells was used to determine the elastic area compressibility modulus of osmotically swollen human erythrocytes. With this method we determined the force required to indent cells attached to a glass coverslip (Petersen, N.O., W. B. McConnaughey , and E. L. Elson , 1982, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 79:5327. Forces on the order of one millidyne and indentations on the order of one micron were detected. An analysis of these data in terms of a simplified mechanical model yielded the elastic area compressibility modulus. This analysis used a variational approach to minimize the isothermal elastic potential energy density function given by E. A. Evans and R. Skalak (Mechanics and Thermodynamics of Biomembranes, 1980, CRC Press, Boca Raton , FL). Measurements on swollen erythrocytes gave a range of values, depending in part on the osmotic conditions, of 17.9 +/- 8.2 to 34.8 +/- 12.0 mdyn /micron for the elastic area compressibility modulus at 25 degrees C. Fractional area expansion greater than 2.6 +/- 0.8% produced rapid cell lysis. These values were not corrected for the reversible movement of water across the cell membrane in response to hydrostatic pressure gradients. Our results agree reasonably with those obtained by Evans et al. (Evans, E.A., R. Waugh , and L. Melnick , 1976, Biophys. J., 16:585–595.) using micropipette aspiration under similar conditions.