Cats are mysterious animals. Their behavior is often difficult to pin down, both by their masters and by animal behaviorists. Affectionate but independent, domestic but untrained, the world’s most popular pets remain enigmatic. For a long time, one of their mysteries was their immoderate love for catnip, better known as catnip.
From domestic cats to big cats like tigers or lions, this perennial plant, as well as some other species including the silver vine (actinidia polygama), drives felines crazy, who love to chew, rub and roll in it. For years, the exact reason for this attraction was poorly understood, but a Japanese study may have just cracked the mystery.
Researchers at Iwate University in Japan have observed that damaging a catnip causes the plant to increase its iridoid production by 2,000% compared to usual. This molecule has the property of repelling insects. This therefore indicates that the felines roll in the leaves of catnip in order to cover themselves with iridoids, in order to repel mosquitoes.
Plants, specialists in chemical warfare
This result does not surprise Marco Gallio, a neurobiologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. To the New York Times, he details: “Plants are masters in the art of chemical warfare.” Indeed, when they are damaged, they produce irritating substances in order to repel attackers and warn surrounding plants of the danger.
This technique is effective for insects, less so for felines, who have somehow figured out that by damaging good plants, they can cause them to produce their own mosquito repellent.
Despite these results, the mystery is not entirely solved. Indeed, a certain number of cats are not really receptive to catnip, and scientists are still perplexed as to the euphoric state that the plant induces in those who love it.