15 June 2022

Catnip: part ecstasy part Aerogard

Clinical The Back Page

Turns out that licking, chewing and generally destroying these plants boosts their repellent qualities.

One benefit of the covid pandemic has been the chance for work-from-homers to witness the destructive power of the cat. 

From keyboard hogging to unwanted appearances via Zoom, felines everywhere have wreaked havoc while their owners just attempt to earn a crust. (Part of said crust going towards cat food.) 

However, research published yesterday confirms that trashing stuff can also protect the perpetrator from pests. 

The study lead, Dr Masao Miyazaki of Japan’s Iwate University, had already showed that the iridoid compounds nepetalactol and nepetalactone – produced by catnip (Nepeta cataria) and its Asian counterpart silver vine (Actinidia polygama) – really get up the nose of the Aedes albopictus mosquito. 

However, now the team has shown that when cats damage the plants by rubbing, rolling, licking, and chewing, the repellent properties are even more effective.  

It’s also well established that the plants have pleasantly intoxicative qualities for cats so it’s not hard to see why they’re a kitty-magnet for those seeking to chill out when there’s mozzies around. 

To test whether the felines were reacting to the compounds specifically, they stuck them in front of dishes containing pure nepetalactone and nepetalactol. 

“Cats show the same response to iridoid cocktails and natural plants except for chewing,” said Dr Miyazaki. “They lick the chemicals on the plastic dish and rub against and roll over on the dish.” 

The Back Page bets they would chew the dish if they could. 

“When iridoid cocktails were applied on the bottom of dishes that were then covered by a punctured plastic cover, cats still exhibited licking and chewing even though they couldn’t contact the chemicals directly,” he added. 

“This means that licking and chewing is an instinctive behaviour elicited by olfactory stimulation of iridoids.” 

The Back Page is unsure whether the malaria carrying Anopheles mosquito is fussed by any of this. But should new research emerge, be sure to find travellers queuing up at their pharmacy to have a good old roll around in catnip. 

If you see something that makes you want to murder a house plant, roll it over to penny@medicalrepublic.com.au