Cats are often a mystery even to those who know them best. Why do they sleep so much? Why do they want your full attention one minute and not the next? how can they find their way back house after being stranded miles away years? Known for including the cat in his novels and essays, writer Haruki Murakami once Confessed not knowing why he did it; “It naturally slides in,” said one cat.
Another mystery: Why do cats love catnip? When exposed to the plant belonging to the mint family majority most domestic cats will lick, rub, chew and roll in it. They overflow with euphoria, fly out of things. They also go wild for other plants, especially silver vine, which is not closely related to catnip but gets the same response from felines, including big cats like the jaguar and tiger.
For years, this behavior was another cat-related mystery. However new workResponse to catnip and silver vine, published Tuesday in the journal iScience bug repulsive Effect iridoids, chemicals that cause height in plants.
Researchers led by Masao Miyazaki, an animal behavior scientist at Iwate University in Japan, found that when the plant was damaged by cats, the amount of these iridoids released by the plant increased by more than 2,000 percent. So perhaps the cat’s height provides an evolutionary advantage: keeping bloodsucking insects away.
Kristyn Vitale, a cat behavior specialist at Unity College who was unrelated to the research, noted that the study builds on strong previous studies. Last year, the same lab published a study that found this. cats would try their best to coat themselves with DEET-like iridoids., rolling over chemicals or raising up to sniff with her cheeks. Dr. “This suggests that physically incorporating the compounds into their bodies can have a benefit for the cat,” Vitale said.
Carlo Siracusa, an animal behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the research, agrees. “Evidence shows they want to impregnate their bodies with scent,” he said. But he added, “remember that not a large pile of cats exhibit this behavior. So why were they chosen this way?”
Insect-repellent iridoids as an evolutionary adaptation it probably does more to protect plants from herbivorous insects than helps cats avoid insect bites. Plants often release irritants when damaged, which help fend off attackers and release other chemicals that convey danger to their neighbors. “Plants are masters of chemical warfare,” said neurobiologist Marco Gallio of Northwestern University, who was not involved in the new research.
Last year, Dr. Gallio and colleagues published a report This linked nepetalactone, the primary insect repellent in catnip, to a receptor protein that triggers irritation in mosquitoes and related insects. The receptor, also found in humans and cats, can be triggered by tear gas. However, Dr. Gallio found that although nepetalactone has no adverse effects on humans and sends cats into spasms of ecstasy, it does activate this particular receptor (called TRPA1) in many insects – an added bonus for cats to take the drug of their choice.
In his most recent work, Dr. Miyazaki and colleagues measured the chemical composition of the air just above catnip and silver vine leaves—both intact and damaged. They then measured the iridoid levels in the leaves. They found that catnip leaves crushed by cats released at least 20 times more nepetalactone than intact leaves, and damaged silver vine leaves released similar iridoids at least eight times more than intact leaves. The cats’ interactions with silver vine also changed the composition of the plant’s insect repellent cocktail, making it even more potent.
After rubbing their faces and bodies on the plants, you can be sure that the cats will be covered with a solid layer of Pest Begone.
Dr. This finding, paired with Miyazaki and her team’s previous research, supports emerging claims that at least part of the kitty catnip craze is to repel mosquitoes and flies. This behavior, called “self-anointing,” would not be the first of its kind in the animal kingdom. Mexican spider monkeys are known. to stain themselves different kinds of leaves, and often hedgehogs, possibly to serve a social or sexual purpose rub off toxins on their spines.
Still, there are many questions to be answered, including why only felines have a euphoric response to catnip and silver vine, and why only some of these felines do. Dr. While enthusiastic about the new study, Gallio suggested a cautious approach. “What do I know?” said. “I wasn’t there to see evolution happen.”