Crazy for Catnip

Hey Garfield, don’t bogart that catnip!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Our feline friends love to trip out on CERTAIN plants! Does all that euphoric chewing and rubbing have any other PAW-sitive effects?

Plants like catnip and silvervine make chemicals called iridoids. When they’re damaged, the plants release iridoids in the air to protect them from insects.

Reiko Uenoyama and team from Iwate University in Japan wondered how to maximize the potency. They measured the amount of iridoids in the air after cats chewed up the plants.

And? Damaged leaves created TEN times more iridoids than intact ones! Chewing silvervine leaves changed the plants’ chemical makeup. This helped them repel mosquitoes faster. The strongest bug-repelling leaves were also the cats’ favorite. They spent more time rubbing, licking, and chewing these damaged leaves. Little fiends!

Turns out, our cats aren’t just chewing catnip for the buzz. After rolling in the sweet leaves, they’re coated in natural bug spray!

Beat it mo-skeeters! Garfield’s not here, MAN!

Reference: Uenoyama, R., Miyazaki, T., Adachi, M., Nishikawa, T., Hurst, J. L., & Miyazaki, M. (2022). Domestic cat damage to plant leaves containing iridoids enhances chemical repellency to pests. IScience, 104455.