a cat with catnip

a cat with catnip

Mosquitoes will flee if they catch a scent of catnip. Researchers now understand why. 

Catnip Properties

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) has an active ingredient that repels insects. It accomplishes this by activating a chemical receptor, which can cause feelings such as discomfort or itch. TRPA1 is the name of the sensor. It is found in all creatures, from flatworms to humans. And it is what causes a human to cough or an insect to escape when they come into contact with an irritant. Irritating substances might range from cold or heat to wasabi or tear gas. 

Scientists have established catnip’s bug repellant properties, as well as its influence on feline pleasure and delight. Studies prove that catnip efficiently repels insects. It is also synthetic repellent diethyl-m-toluamide. This molecule is most well known as DEET. The question remains: why does catnip deter insects?

Insect Reactions

To find out, researchers fed catnip to mosquitos and fruit flies. They then observed the insects’ behavior. Fruit flies were less likely to deposit eggs on the side of a petri dish treated with catnip or an active component of catnip. That substance is known as nepetalactone (Neh-PEE-tuh-LAK-toan). Mosquitoes were also less inclined to suck blood from a human hand that had been treated with it. 

Insects that had been genetically engineered to lack TRPA1 did not react negatively to the plant. Catnip also stimulates TRPA1 in lab-grown cells, according to studies. This response and laboratory results indicate that the insect TRPA1 perceives catnip as an irritant. 

Researchers may be able to create more effective insect repellents if they learn how the plant repels insects. They might be beneficial to low-income countries that are plagued by mosquito-borne illnesses. According to research co-author Marco Gallio, “oil derived from the plant or the plant itself might be a fantastic starting point.” He works as a neuroscientist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. 

According to Paul Garrity, a neuroscientist at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, if a plant can produce a chemical that stimulates TRPA1 in various animals, no one will eat it. Paul was not a part of the project. According to him, catnip did not evolve in reaction to predation by ancient mosquitoes or fruit flies. This is because plants are not on the insects’ main menu. Instead, these insects might be collateral damage in the struggle between catnip and another plant-nibbling bug. 

The Discovery

According to Craig Montell, the discovery “makes you question what the objective is in cats.” He was also not a participant in the research. According to Montell, there’s also the question of whether the plant sends messages through various cells in the cat nervous system, such as those for pleasure. 

Fortunately, the plant’s bug-off tendency has little effect on humans. According to Gallio, this is an indication of a good repellent. In lab-grown cells, human TRPA1 did not respond to catnip. In addition, he says, “the wonderful benefit is that you can cultivate [catnip] in your backyard.” 

However, according to research co-author Marcus Stensmyr, don’t grow catnip in the garden. He is a neuroscientist at Sweden’s Lund University. He thinks a pot would be preferable since catnip spreads like wildfire.