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4 Things to Know About Tabby Cats

Did you know — tabby cats might have the oldest cat coat pattern and there’s some fascinating folklore behind this type of feline. Let’s learn more!

Meghan Lodge  |  Jan 24th 2018

Considering that the tabby pattern is the most common of all cat coat patterns, you might have a tabby cat, and you’ve definitely seen one. Cats with tabby-patterned coats are commonly referred to as “tabbies” or “tabby cats,” although that is not a breed. Tabbies come in five basic patterns — classic, mackerel, spotted, ticked and patched.

1. Those cool tabby cat patterns have a scientific reason

Closeup of a brown tabby cat's whiskers.

That tabby cat coat is actually good camouflage. Photography by darkbird77/Thinkstock.

Tabby patterns are also excellent built-in camouflage, perhaps a leftover blessing from the domestic cat’s ancestors. Their colors and patterns break up the outlines of their bodies to help disguise them in the woods and tall grasses, making them harder for predators and prey alike to spot them. Camouflage is nature’s protection against predators and helps the cat sneak up undetected on prey. Wild cats, like the Bobcat, European Wildcat, Leopard Cat, and many more sport tabby coat patterns. When they are very still in the trees or fallen leaves, they can be very hard to spot.

2. The tabby cat coat may be the oldest cat coat in existence

A happy gray cat sleeping.

A tabby cat might have the oldest cat coat in existence. Photography ©infinityyy | Thinkstock.

If you have a tabby cat, you may have a piece of the beginning of cats. Some believe that the tabby pattern is the oldest cat coat pattern known to man, which makes perfect sense considering how well their coats blend with their surroundings (see above!).

3. There’s some fascinating folklore associated with tabby cats

An orange tabby cat with his eyes closed or eyes blinking.

There are tons of stories out there about how tabbies got the “M” on their foreheads. Photography ©Pshenichka | Thinkstock.

Tabby cats also come with their own folklore. One tale involved a tabby cat who fell asleep on the prophet Mohammed’s sleeve. Rather than disturb the sleeping feline, he cut his sleeve off when he went to pray. The cat later warned him of danger, so it is said that the “M” marking on tabbies is from Mohammed’s blessing, and the dark lines down their back from where he stroked his cat. Egyptians believed the mark was symbolic of the sacred scarab beetle or a reference to their Egyptian name, Mau. Catholics believed the “M” was a blessing from the Virgin Mary, after the cat killed a venomous snake sent to bite baby Jesus. Non-Catholic Christians have a similar tale, with a mother tabby cat curling up in the manger with baby Jesus to keep him warm.

4. Tabby cats were persecuted at one point in time

A tabby cat stalking and about to pounce.

Tabby cats were victims of false superstitions. Photography ©Daniel Rodriguez Tirad | Thinkstock.

Medieval England (circa A.D. 906) believed witches used cats as familiars, and their tabby cats would transform themselves into black horses that the witches rode. Because of these beliefs, women who were not of the accepted religion or went against society in other ways, such as practicing medicine, were persecuted, along with their feline friends. This led to a decline in the population of tabby cats, as well as black cats, in England, and has perhaps contributed to some of the public’s feelings about them today. Fortunately for the tabby cat and black cats alike, most people don’t give credence to old wives’ tales and folk tales about cats.

Tell us: Do you have a tabby cat? What folktales have you heard about them? Tell us about your tabby cat in the comments!

Thumbnail: Photography by Murika/Thinkstock.

Learn more about your tabby cat with Catster.com:

About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it’s in tattoos, books or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of Toby (cat) and Axle (dog). I’m a former quiet nerd who’s turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.