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Cat Chewing on Catnip makes the Insect-Repelling Powers Stronger

By: Evan Bian

With just one whiff, most cats start tearing up Catnip. That destruction boosts the plant’s natural defenses against insects and birds, new data show. It also becomes more appealing to the cat. Compared with intact catnip leaves, crushed ones emit more compounds into the air.

Iridoids that are the insect-repelling chemicals, repel pests. They also seem to encourage cats to continue rolling around in the remains of the mashed leaves. This will effectively coat cats in a type of all-natural bug spray.

Masao Miyazaki who is a biologist that works at Iwate University in Morioka, Japan. This biologist was part of an international team that analyzed catnip and silver vine. These two species are common in Asia.

It brings cats much the same sense of the joy, excitement and well-being that catnip does. Both plants naturally produce iridoids. Those plant defense chemicals tend to make the leaves taste bad to pests. As cats destroy the silver vine, the damaged leaves release lots of iridoids. In fact, Miyazaki’s team finds that those leaves emitted about 10 times more of these compounds than did undamaged leaves. Damaging the leaves also changed the relative amounts of different chemicals these leaves spewed into the air. Crushed catnip leaves released even more of its insect repellents — some 20 times more.

Most of this plant’s emissions were an iridoid known as nepetalactone. Cats are attracted to catnip and silver vine, and are especially attracted to damaged ones. It helps with repelling

insects and pests.

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