Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Brennan. Brennan Wonders, “Why are cats attracted to catnip?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Brennan!
Have you ever watched a cat play with a toy filled with catnip? If you have, you probably saw some really funny things!
Catnip is a plant that has a strong smell and belongs to the mint family. It has a scientific name, Nepeta cataria, but people also call it "catmint" or "catswort." It's from Africa, Europe, and Asia, but now it's also in North America. There are more than 250 types of catnip in the world.
Catnip grows to be two to three feet tall and has strong stems and heart-shaped leaves. At the tips of the stems, it can grow flowers that are blue, white, pink, or purple.
Most catnip toys contain dried and ground-up catnip, but it can also work if it's fresh.
Catnip has an oil in it called "nepetalactone." When cats smell it, special cells called receptors are activated which sense something called "pheromones."
When cats smell catnip, they might paw at, rub, roll over, chew, and even lick a catnip toy. Some may also get really excited and get frisky, meow, growl, purr, drool and act silly for several minutes!
But after a little while, the effect goes away, and they will not pay attention to the toy anymore. It will take about two hours before they react to it again.
Not all cats will react to catnip, but about 50 to 75% of cats will feel something. Young kittens and old cats are less likely to be affected. It's also believed that whether or not a cat likes catnip is because of their parents. For example, most Australian cats aren’t affected by catnip.
Even big cats like lions, tigers, and leopards will react to catnip in the same way as house cats.
Catnip can be used to keep insects like mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, and termites away. Scientists found that nepetalactone by itself is ten times more effective than DEET, which is in most insect sprays. But it doesn’t work if it's put on your skin.
People can also use catnip as a medicine. Drinking it as tea or infusion can make you feel relaxed and numb pain. People have used it to treat things like nausea, headaches, and toothaches for a long time.