All breeds of domestic cat carry the tabby gene. Our feline friends that we know and love as house cats, originated from the African wild cat (see cat history.)
It is this pattern that appears most often on tabbies. The classic (known as blotched tabbies in the United Kingdom) has large swirls or blotches that end in a circular pattern at the sides.
Three broad lines run from the neck to the tail, and around the neck there are wide bands of color (known as a necklace.)
Classic tabby cats tails have broad bands, as do their legs, and the belly will have a row of vest button blotches. On the shoulders are patterns that are very similar to butterfly wings.
Ziggy – A magnificent tabby and white cat.
Mackerel tabby markings closely correspond to the patterns seen on African wild cats. Some people suggest that mackerel tabbies should have been called classic, because their coat pattern was the original, and more reminiscent of the domestic cats origins.
Mackerel tabbies have narrow striped rings around their tail and legs, solid or broken stripes down their sides and one or more 'necklaces' on the front of their chests. Along the belly of the mackerel tabby you will find a double row of 'vest buttons.'
The sides, shoulders and haunches can show fine parallel lines or markings somewhat like the bones of a fish, which is how they came to be called mackerel tabbies, (they are also sometimes known as tiger tabbies.)
The dark blotches of the coat pattern of some tabbies are formed into oval or round spots.
Sometimes the spots run in lines, this is often known as the interrupted mackerel pattern.
However whether these spots developed from mackerel tabbies, or are a completely separate mutation remains unknown.
Spotted tabbies usually show a faint trace of a necklace and have a line of spots, or sometimes blotches, running from the neck to the very tip of their tail.
Cats with ticked coat markings do not display the usual stripes, blotches or swirls of the tabby pattern and do not at first glance seem to be tabby cats at all.
A closer look will show that the hairs are in fact striped with light and dark colored bands, these are known as agouti hairs, most tabbies will have some agouti hairs that make up part of their coat pattern.
The faces of ticked (or agouti) tabbies will show the traditional 'M' marking, and ticked tabbies may show a faint necklace.
The Abyssinian cat is a very good example of a ticked tabby and their coats often appear to shimmer in the sunlight due to the agouti hairs.
Cats that have random patches of different colors are known as tortoiseshell (tortie), if the markings are tabby, the cats are called patched tabbies (torbie).
Mackerel, spotted, ticked or classic markings can show in the patches, and the tabby pattern usually shows more distinctly on the head and legs.
Brown patched tabbies have patches of deep brown tabby markings and patches of red (orange or ginger) tabby markings. Blue patched tabbies have patches of soft blue (gray) markings and patches of cream tabby markings.
All tabbies have an 'M' marking on their forehead, and on some this mark is very distinct. The 'M' is often referred to as 'the mark of the true tabby'.
There are several amusing legends about how tabby cats got their 'M'.
The most popular of these legends tells us that when the baby Jesus was lying in the manger he started to shiver with the cold.
Mary covered the baby with blankets but still he kept shivering. Mary then ask all the animals to move closer to the manger so that their body heat would warm Jesus.
The animals stood as close to the manger as they could but the baby Jesus remained cold and shivering.
After a time a small cat with tabby markings jumped into the manger and snuggled next to Jesus. Before long the baby had stopped shivering and was sound asleep, contented and warm.
In her gratitude to the tabby Mary made the mark of her own initial, upon the cat's forehead so that tabby cats will forever remind the world of how they saved Jesus from the cold.
How did tabbies get their 'M'?
The name tabby is believed to have come from the word atabi a type of silk spun in the Attabiah region of Baghdad.
This silk was exported in large quantities to the British Isles where it was noticed how similar the stripped pattern was to the coat of the tiger cat.
These tiger cats soon started to be called tabbi cats and later tabby cats.
Have a good look at the coat patterns of tabbies, often you will find wonderful arrangements of swirls, stripes and spots. A colorful tabby can be a display of cat art on four feline legs!
Too often tabbies are thought of as semi-feral alley cats and deemed to be low in cat hierarchy.
Anybody that has ever shared their home with a tabby will know how amusing, intelligent, and warmly affectionate, beautiful tabby cats can be.