What, oh, what does that M stand for? The Catholics say Mary. The Muslims say Mohammed. The Egyptians say Mau. The Dragon Ball Z fans say Majin Buu.
The Marvel fans say Magneto. Does it mean Meow? Mouse? Mask? Maine coon? Mystery? Mine? Since many cat goddesses are also maternal goddesses, maybe it means “Mother”.
If your cat has a letter M on her forehead, you've got a tabby cat on your hands! (Speaking of hands, you probably have an M on your palm!
Look at it with the pinkie side down.) If you do, you no doubt want to know more about these beautiful, wonderful creatures.
What is a tabby cat?
A tabby is not a breed of cat but a coat pattern. They can be brown, grey, orange or yellow but they must be striped. A grey tabby can be silver grey or blue grey.
If you look closely at a black cat under strong lighting, you may be able to see some faint tabby stripes, just as a black panther has leopard spots among that ebon fur. Since tabbies come in every breed, you could have a Persian or an angora that looks like a fluffy little tiger.
Origin of Tabby Cats
As the tabby pattern is ubiquitous among wild felines, it might be supposed that cats of the medieval era were tabbies. The first of the domesticated felines were very likely striped like their wild ancestors. The striped patterned evolved as a means of camouflage, making it easier to stalk prey in tall grass.
Tabby Cat Patterns
Classic Tabby Cat
The classic tabby has a coat that looks like a marble cake or a Yin Yang symbol.
This is frequently referred to as the swirled or bulls-eye pattern.
The stripes are considerably wider than a mackerel tabby's stripes and have a circular pattern on the sides.
These terrific tabbies will often have broad stripes streaking down the middle of the back.
Mackerel Tabby Cat
Holy mackerel, what a beautiful cat!
No, they're not named after their favorite fish, though they won't turn their noses up at it.
A good way to describe the vertical stripes that lie parallel to the cat's sides is like a fish bone.
There will be one big stripe down the cat's spine and several thinner stripes looking like the ribs on a fish's skeleton.
It may look like Kitty is wearing a little pinstriped suit!
Spotted Tabby Cat
These tabbies don't have stripes but spots.
If the spots have a dark outline along with a lighter color in the center, they are called rosettes.
Jaguars, for example, have rosettes while leopards have spots.
Ticked Tabby Cat
If a cat is ticked, that doesn't mean he's angry! It also doesn't mean he's infested with a nasty blood sucking parasite either.
It just means that rather than a pattern on the body, each and every individual hair has bands of color on it.
In purebred cats, some breeds are allowed by the AFC to have stripes, also known as bars, on the legs and face. Other breeds are required not to have any barring at all.
Patched Tabby Cat
Another word for such cats is “torbie” as their coat is a blend of tabby stripes and tortoiseshell pattern. The markings are especially apparent on the head and legs.
Related coat pattern: Lilac Tortoiseshell Cat
How Tabby Cats Get Their Patterns
Scientists have identified three separate genes involved in tabby-pattern process. These are the Agouti Signaling Protein (ASIP), Mc1R and Taqpep.
The Mc1R gene determines how dark the coat will be. The ASIP gene controls whether the cat’s coat will have bands or be solid colored.
Does the Tabby Pattern Influence Other Traits
Not really! Breeding rather than coat color influences coat length and texture and any other physical qualities. There are more factors than hair color that affect personality.
Personality of tabby cats
It's hard to say what a tabby personality is. They're known for being friendly, but could this be because people act friendly towards such a handsome cat? Every cat is an individual.
Nurture does have a big impact on a cat's personality, but kittens from the same litter raised the same way may still have very different personalities.
Breeds that can have tabby patterns
There are many cat breeds in which the Cat Fanciers Association accept the tabby pattern. The Abyssinian is well known for having ticked fur as are the Birman, Singapura and Somali.
The Egyptian Mau is the original spotted tabby. On a colorpoint shorthair, Ragdoll and the Javanese, tabby markings are called “lynx points”. The classic pattern is almost expected in the American shorthair.
Nearly all Maine coon cats have a tabby pattern. The ocicat and Bengal are specifically bred to have distinctive spotting.
There are fourteen allowable tabby patterns and colors among the Turkish Angora. There are sixteen tabby patterns and colors allowed among the Turkish Vans.
Persians, Manx and American curl are also among the breeds that are still considered standard when they show tabby traits.
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Famous tabby cats
Garfield is the world's most famous tabby. It was revealed in one special that his mother was a yellow tabby. How he managed to have a purple half brother named Raul is anybody's guess.
The Ithaca Kitty, the first mass produced plush toy, was based on a tabby cat named Caesar Grimalkin. Stubbs was an orange tabby who was mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska.
The Cheshire Cat from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been depicted as a tabby since the original Tenniel illustrations. Disney decided he should have pink and purple stripes.
Tabbies in culture
In the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” the sun god, Ra, appears as a spotted tabby, much like the modern Egyptian Mau. He is often shown slaying the serpent Apep. The Egyptians believed the M mark was left by a scarab. Painter Horatio Henry Coudery depicted tabby cats as mischievous, curious, a little gluttonous, yet somehow lovable.
The Broadway musical Cats features a boss cat named Munkustrap with silver tabby markings. The wig the actor wears has a widow's peak making it look like an M. Said actor must be strong enough to lift and throw another male dancer, so he will have a rather imposing presence on the stage.
Remember the M on the palm mentioned in parentheses in the first paragraph? It could stand for “motivated” or “management” since in palmistry it is believed that people with this pattern are good with self-discipline and motivating themselves to do their best.
They tend to be drawn to careers in journalism, education and writing. (Looks at own palm) There could be some truth to it after all.
Cats are not known for their motivation or self-discipline. The M on your tabby cat in more likely to mean “Mmm…after my nap. Maybe.” But, we love the little furballs anyway!
Frequently Asked Questions
- Tabby cat at britannica.com
- Basic Genetics as Revealed by Cats at berkeley.edu
- Cat Coats and Genes Closer to the origin of Tabby cats' stripes at Stanford School of Medicine
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