Tabbies – crouching cats, hidden tigers!

by Nov 8, 2015The World of Cats0 comments

Tabby is not a cat breed, it’s a coat pattern, one that makes great camouflage (you might say tabbies invented camo).  If you’re a domestic cat, you carry the tabby gene. Tabbies come in a variety of colors, stripes, and spots. There are four main types of tabbies – Classic, Mackerel, Spotted, and Ticked – and each type has its own distinctive pattern.  However all tabbies share a common feature, the “M” on their forehead:

There are several legends about how tabbies came to be marked with an “M.” My favorite is the one that places the tabby in the middle of the manger scene. In this legend the Baby Jesus was cold and Mary asked the animals to move closer to the manger to keep him warm. The animals moved in as close as they could, but the baby Jesus was still shivering. Then a tabby cat jumped into the manger and snuggled up to him, keeping him warm and content, sound asleep. To thank him, Mary left the mark of her initial on the cat’s forehead.

My first Christmas I tried to reenact this legend, however I was already a little too big to fit in the Nativity scene.

I’m a classic tabby and I have lots of neat markings. In addition to the aforementioned tabby “M,” I have the following distinctive markings:

The swirl (a.k.a bullseye) on my sides


Three stripes from my neck to the base of my tail

A butterfly on my shoulders

Stripes around my neck (a.k.a the necklace)


Broad bands around my tail

Stripes on my legs

Rows of spots on my tummy (a.k.a. vest buttons) – the Crocs aren’t part of the classic tabby pattern!

Mackerel tabbies are the most common and they most closely resemble African wild cats. They have solid or broken stripes on their sides, stripes around their legs and tail, as well as necklaces and vest buttons. This is a picture of me with my girlfriend Gabby, a beautiful mackerel.

Instead of stripes on their sides, spotted tabbies have spots (obviously). The spots can vary in size and shape. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a spotted tabby and a mackerel tabby with broken stripes. I don’t have a picture of a spotted tabby, so if any of you spotted tabbies out there want to submit a photo of yourself, I’ll feature it in my post (with permission).

Ticked tabbies don’t have body stripes, instead each individual hair is ticked (i.e. has bands of color on it). Ticked tabbies have the “M” on their forehead, and may or may not have leg and cheek stripes. The Abyssinian cat breed is an example of a ticked tabby.

That wraps up my quick tour of tabbies, the tigers in your house!