Catnip and another plant called silver vine contain five chemicals that, when combined, make a cat altogether euphoric. These chemicals also repel mosquitos. What’s more, when the plant is rubbed, chewed, or crushed, the insect repelling properties are magnified. Cats are more attracted to catnip or silver vine plants that have been crushed or damaged, and they also tend to crush or damage the leaves themselves. Rubbing or rolling in catnip distributes the chemicals around the cat’s body, protecting it from mosquito bites, and licking or chewing the leaves causes the chemicals within to disperse more readily. When the five chemicals are produced synthetically, the cats respond in the same way.
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This may give us a clue as to why cats like catnip. Of course, they like the high, but did they evolve the ability to get high on ‘nip in order to take advantage of the mosquito repelling properties of the plants? Did cats who enjoyed catnip get an evolutionary benefit when they chewed or rubbed against the plants, like maybe fewer mosquito-borne diseases? Another question that cames to mind is, what about all this is beneficial to the plant? Read about the research into catnip and silver vine at Smithsonian.
(Image credit: Julia Wolf)