Ditch the DEET, Grab the Catnip?

Recent research shows catnip compounds to be at least as effective as synthetic insect repellents such as DEET.  Sound crazy?  Not really.  Often used as an additive for cat toys and treats due to its euphoric and hallucinogenic effects on cats, catnip has also long been known for its powerful repellent action on insects, mosquitoes in particular.  But until now, the mechanism that triggered insects’ aversion to this common member of the mint family was unknown.  Now, however, a research team has uncovered the underlying receptors that contribute to the mosquitoes’ aversive reaction.

“We discovered that Catnip and its active ingredient Nepetalactone activate the irritant receptor TRPA1, an ancient pain receptor found in animals as diverse as flatworms, fruit flies and humans. We now think Catnip is so aversive to so many insect species because it activates this widespread irritant receptor.”

-Dr. Marco Gallio, associate professor of neurobiology, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Other perks?  Plant-derived repellants are often far less toxic than synthetic chemicals and they are available at a much lower cost and are easier to obtain. Catnip’s accessibility could have major implications in developing countries where mosquito-borne diseases are a huge problem.


Journal Reference: Melo, N. et al.  The irritant receptor TRPA1 mediates the mosquito repellent effect of catnip, Current Biology Journal, March 04, 2021.  DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2021.02.010   Summary