It’s common knowledge that most cats go crazy for catnip, but many might not know that a plant called silvervine often has the same effect of provoking a euphoric-like response in cats. This often results in felines’ behaviour changing slightly, as they become more playful and tend to endlessly roll around in the catnip or silvervine.
Catnip refers to the individual leaves of the Nepeta cataria plant, which garners a positive response from cats. Silvervine, on the other hand, refers to the woody sticks from the Actinidia polygama plant that often provokes the same response, which includes rubbing up against the plant matter.
The tendency to roll around more when presented with catnip or silvervine has got scientists curious as to why exactly they do this, and they might have found out why. According to a new study conducted by researchers from Japan’s Iwate University, this behaviour might have a deeper meaning.
Key to the researcher’s findings is a substance called nepetalactol, a plant chemical that produces the euphoric response in cats. Nepetalactol is often used as a mosquito repellant by humans, but the study found that our feline friends might also be benefiting from the substance. When a cat rubs up against the Nepeta cataria or Actinidia polygama plants, nepetalactol is transferred directly onto their fur, which then acts as a deterrent for mosquitos and other pesky bugs.
During the study, researchers monitored how many mosquitos landed on cats that been exposed to catnip or silvervine compared to cats who had not been exposed to the plants. They found that fewer mosquitos landed on cats that were exposed to the substance compared to cats who weren’t.
— Phys.org (@physorg_com) January 20, 2021
According to led Professor Masao Miyazaki, “From these results, we found that the cats’ reaction to silvervine is chemical defense against mosquitoes, and perhaps against viruses and parasitic insects. This was the most significant finding of our study … Why is this reaction limited to cats? Why don’t non-feline animals react to the plant? To find answers, we want to identify the gene responsible for the reaction.”