What’s a Cat to Do? Catnip Revelation-

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A cat found a Nepeta plant and starts eating.

Cats love catnip. They go weird for it. Even the most dignified and solemn felines go daffy in the presence of this plant – rubbing themselves in it, rolling on it, chewing it, dancing deliriously around it, and even licking it aggressively.

But while it has long been understood that catnip, and the similar Asian plant silvervine, have intoxicative properties, new research has found that cats’ instinctive response to the presence of catnip could be unwittingly helping the plant release chemicals which act as an insect repellent and could benefit cats.

Lead author of the research Masao Miyazaki, an animal expert at Iwate University in Japan who specializes in how chemicals drive animals’ instinctual behaviours, said cats’ reaction to catnip and silvervine was so universal across the world that he “had to know what was going on.”

He said: “Even in the famous musical Cats, there are scenes where you see a cat intoxicate another cat using catnip powder.”

Catnip and silvervine leaves contain the compounds nepetalactol and nepetalactone from a chemical group called the iridoids that protect the plants from pests.

To see how cats’ behaviour was affecting the chemicals released by the plants, Professor Miyazaki worked with chemists at Nagoya University to measure the emission levels of these iridoids before and after the plant’s leaves were damaged by the intoxicated cats.

“We found that physical damage of silvervine by cats promoted the immediate emission of total iridoids, which was 10-fold higher than from intact leaves,” Professor Miyazaki said.

Not only were more iridoids released through the cat’s physical manipulation of the plants, but the scientists found the chemical composition of the iridoids changed in ways that seemed to encourage the cats’ behaviour further.

By Harry Cockburn of Independent




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