The little fishing village of Aoshima, (located in the Ehime prefecture in Japan) was a fine drop off point for hitchhiking rats aboard depleted fishing vessels in the days when the Island was populated with 900 humans and no predators in site. That is until domestic cats where introduced 1945 as the fisherman’s best friend.
Rodent cuisine every night in turn produced an island full of fat cats in no time. By the time 2018 came around, the cats outnumbered the humans 6 to 1. Ehime Shimbun reported that the human population had decreased from 900 in 1945 to 13 in 2018 with an average age of over 75. Either the fisherman’s children no longer wanted to follow in their parent’s footsteps, or they ran out of fish to fry and left for other areas of the world, leaving behind some furry substitutes. In 2019, Asahi Shimbun Globe reported that only 6 residents remained on the island along with about 120 cats.
At some point of the Islands evolution, catnip was introduced as an insecticide to take care of mosquitoes and aphids and consequently found their beloved rat killing child substitutes where getting high on the stuff and couldn’t get enough of it. Apparently the high the cats feel are like an LCD trip or those effects of Cannabis, but I can’t personally quote any cats I know. It does appear to last around 10 minutes after which the cats return to normal. Highly entertaining for small Island life I’m sure…until someone consumes too much, gets diarrhoea and vomits (yes these are the side effects and yes it happens)
4aα,7α,7aα-nepetalactone is the chemical responsible for the effects of catnip on adult cats, often causing both male and female cats to behave as a female on heat. Neil Todd, who wrote a PhD thesis on the response to catnip in 1963, suggested that this chemical can switch on pheromone receptors in the nasal passages. Rats have shown to carry a similar chemical in their skin, which may explain why cats like to play with their food as they do their mates. A study showed that this chemical also enhances erections in male rats.
It’s interesting to note that although nepetalactone is known as a stimulant, cats are often found laying limply, drooling, in a heap of relaxed stoned haze whilst under the effects. It’s no secret that humans have tried to exploit the same effects for themselves, to no avail. Catnip is however, reported to have some calming effects when used as a tea, and scientific research as shown the volatile oil to be effective at treating various bacterial infections.
Catnip effects between 70-80% of cats around the world and it has shown to be hereditary response. That means that if the cat was not born with the genes to respond to the plant, it remains unaffected. That’s a downer for 20-30% of the cats on Aoshima standing around wondering what all the fuss is about.
In 2018, a program was deployed to have all the cats spayed and neutered, 210 of which were successful. Ten cats remained uncaptured, which had been hidden by a resident who opposed the program.
In the words of someone pretending to be the father of psychology, Sigmund Freud- ‘Time spent with cats is never wasted’ I’m sure the elderly residents of Aoshima would agree.