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Why Do Tabby Cats Have an “M” on Their Forehead? History & Legend

Written by: Jessica Kim

Last Updated on April 27, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

a grey tabby cat on the sofa

Why Do Tabby Cats Have an “M” on Their Forehead? History & Legend

Tabby cats are known for their beautiful and unique coat patterns. Another interesting thing about tabby cats is that all of them have a distinct M-shaped marking on their foreheads. It’s unclear as to why tabby cats have this marking, but there are several interesting myths and legends that have risen over the years. Here are some fun stories about how tabby cats got the M-shaped marks on their + line divider

Mark of the Moon

Cats have lived alongside the Ancient Egyptians and were regarded as very spiritual animals. The Ancient Egyptian word for cat was “mau,” and it can also be translated to “seeing” or “light.” The correlation between cats and lights led to focusing on a cat’s eyes and how they looked bright like the moon. So, the M shape on their forehead is often known as a mark of the moon.

orange tabby domestic shorthair cat with haws syndrome
Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

The Mark of Mary

There’s a fun legend about an exchange shared between Mary, the mother of Jesus, and a cat. Right after the birth of Jesus, Mary had placed Jesus in a bed of hay. However, the hay didn’t provide enough warmth, and baby Jesus began to shiver and cry from the cold. Mary asked all the animals in the manger to huddle together to garner more warmth, but the manger remained too cold.

Finally, an observant cat decided to step in and lay next to baby Jesus. The cat cuddled with baby Jesus and purred a lullaby that soothed and comforted him. Out of appreciation, Mary stroked the cat’s head, and a mark of her initial imprinted onto it. This mark was to forever remind people of the tabby cat that comforted baby Jesus and Mary.

Muhammad’s Cat

Another story attributes the M-shaped marking to the prophet Muhammad. In this story, Muhammad had a cat named Muezza. This cat would occasionally fall asleep on Muhammad’s shirt sleeve. Muhammad didn’t want to disrupt his cat’s sleep, so he would cut the sleeve whenever he had to leave for a call to prayer.

One day, a venomous snake had snuck into one of the sleeves of Muhammad’s robes. The cat saw the snake hiding inside the robe and killed it before Muhammad could wear the robes. Muhammad was so grateful to the cat and gifted the cat with the ability to always land on their feet. He also petted the cat, and the M-shaped marking remained where Muhammad had touched the cat.

Blue Tabby Point Ragdoll Cat
Image Credit: cath5, Shutterstock

Genetics and a Tabby Cat’s Coat Patterns and Markings

While it’s fun to learn about these myths and legends, genetics can better explain the reason behind a tabby cat’s stripes and markings. There are three genes that are associated with the tabby cat’s coat patterns. These genes determine if a tabby cat has a mackerel, ticked, or spotted coat pattern. There’s a correlation between the marking and the genes that cause the tabby coat patterns, but more research needs to be done to determine exactly how an M-shapde marking appears on the forehead of every tabby cat.

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Several fun myths and legends give explanations for how the M-shaped marking appeared on a tabby cat’s forehead. However, the real cause of this unique marking can be attributed to genetics. It’s quite a complexity that researchers still can’t fully explain. So, whether it’s myth or science, the tabby’s marking is unique and worth talking about and admiring.

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Featured Image Credit: Kichigin, Shutterstock

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