Monday, October 12, 2015

Cats, ants and martinis - what's the connection?





Answer: Oleic acid. This fatty acid is found in squashed ants, cat pheromones (including synthetic pheromones like Feliway) and olives, which explains why some people report that their cats go crazy over olives.

The facial pheromone of cats has been determined to be anywhere from 43-65% oleic acid, which suggests that when cats "go nuts" over squashed ants or olives, they are reacting to a smell that tells them "this is a wonderful, familiar thing that belongs to you".

Because cats rub this facial pheromone on areas that make them feel comfortable, the synthetic pheromone, Feliway, seeks to reduce unwanted behaviors that cats perform when they are stressed by the environment (for example: moving to a new home, interacting with a new cat, traveling...). These behaviors include urine marking, scratching, hiding, and over-grooming.

On the other hand, oleic acid has a very different message to send to ants. The release of the oleic acid odor signals to the other ants that an ant has died and needs to be moved to the colony's ant-graveyard. E. O. Wilson discovered in the 1950's that if you dabbed a tiny bit of oleic acid on a live ant, other ants in the colony would pick it up and move it to the graveyard repeatedly, until the ant had cleaned itself thoroughly enough to remove all traces of the oleic acid.
 
Olives don't need to feel comfortable or bury their fallen comrades, so why is oleic acid in olives? Scientists think that some plants developed high levels of oleic acid to encourage insects like ants to bury their seeds. Since olives carry a seed, a fallen ripe olive, full of oleic acid would potentially attract ants or other insects to carry the olive or its seed back to the ant graveyard and "plant" it, allowing a new olive tree to grow.

So, while these things all have something in common, we do not recommend rubbing olive oil or squashed ants in areas where your cat has been inappropriately urinating, nor do we recommend feeding your cat olives to cheer him up. And we DEFINITELY do not recommend using your cat or an ant as a garnish on your Greek salad or in your favorite martini.

We'd love to hear whether your cat is intrigued by olives or crazy for ants...or both!

Resources:
Ants, Cats, Acids and Aspartame
Why do dead ants and olive oil smell different although oleic acid is an essential ingredient of both?