Though every cat is different, there are certain identifiable markings most tabbies tend to display. A lot of tabbies have stripes throughout their faces, along their backs, and on their legs and tails. However, what makes a tabby actually stand out, is the distinctive M-shaped marking on the forehead.
Some say M stands for Mau, the Egyptian word that means cat. This marking is also seen on wild cats, particularly forest ones like cheetahs, ocelots, and tigers.
Some say that that name is derived from Atabi, a patterned silk made in the Middle East. Others claim that it stems from the translation of the French expression "striped silk taffeta," the root of which is tabis.
A study by feline geneticists Carlos Driscoll and Leslie Lyons verified five family trees of wildcats that are ancestors of today's domestic tabbies. It's also understandable how coats with striped and spots might camouflage well into the wilderness.
Tabby Feline Appearance
Though there are numerous unique tabby patterns, most tabbies show some level of striping on their coats. Depending on the pet cat's genes, these red stripes may be bold, plainly visible, subtle, or faded. Some tabbies show noticeable striping on their legs and tail.
Various other physical attributes generally seen in tabbies include:
- Dark" eyeliner" around the eyes
- Pigmented nose and paws
- Thin pencil lines on the face
- Bands or ring on the legs and tail
While every tabby cat might not display all of these markings, if a cat shows numerous from this checklist, it's pretty secure to say it's a tabby. That being said, there are five types of tabby markings.
The American Shorthair breed is the most common cat with the classic tabby pattern. The pattern is characterized by bold swirls that create a "target" pattern on the side of the cat's body. It's also compared to a marble cake. Some classic tabbies can also have blotches of color in their body, giving them the moniker "blotched tabby."
These cats have solid or broken stripes that branch off from one big line that runs along the pet cat's spine. The mackerel tabby is the most common pattern. It is likewise called the striped tabby or the tiger cat.
They also have rings along their tails and legs. The mackerel tabby is named like this because the pattern resembles a fishbone. Many tabbies with this pattern also have dark spots running through their stomachs, sometimes called "vest buttons."
Instead of the stripes or swirls discussed above, a spotted tabby is covered in spots of different sizes. Because these spots vary, they often resemble broken mackerel tabby stripes. It's uncertain whether the spotted came from broken mackerel tabby patterns or if it has unique genetics.
The Ocicat and American Bobtail are cat breeds that commonly display the spotted tabby pattern.
The ticked tabby does not show the stripes except on its legs and tail. These felines have agouti hairs with a dark base color that alternates with lighter tones. This gives the coat a salt-and-pepper appearance instead of clear stripes. Some ticked tabbies do, nevertheless, show ghost striping on the face, belly, and legs.
This fifth tabby pattern is in a mix of tabby markings with other patterns. A patched tabby may be a calico cat or a tortoiseshell that shows patches of tabby markings. A tortoiseshell cat with tabby spots is often called a "torbie."
Mystical Stories Surrounding the Tabby Cat
Where tales meet genetics, it becomes intriguing. Here are some interesting stories behind the M marking of the tabby cat.
The prophet Muhammad was a known feline enthusiast. It is said that the M on the forehead of the tabby cat was created when he put his hand on the brow of his favorite cat.
Christians have a story that says baby Jesus cried, and a feline climbed up into the mange, started to purr, and sent Jesus to sleep. As a sign of gratitude, the Virgin Mary marked the cat's face with the first letter of her name.
A non-religious version suggests that the M is a set of frown lines, the result of a cat looking at a mousehole in concentration.
Tabby Cat Personality
Tabbies are considered friendly, lighthearted pet cats, intelligent, lively, caring, and remarkable companions. Red tabbies, also called ginger or orange, are said to be bossy. But this characteristic is linked to coat shade, not the tabby pattern.
Because various breeds have a tabby pattern, making broad statements about the cat's personality is challenging. It's better to identify the breed and go from there.
You can usually discern a cat breed just by simply looking at it. Several breeds have distinct physical features, though it may not be as simple if you have a mixed-breed cat.
If you are curious to know your cat's genetics, there are several DNA examination kits available that can help you.