SWIRLS, STRIPES AND BUTTONS...
DE-MYSTIFYING THE TABBY PATTERN


by Patricia Jacobberger

The tabby is a fancy cat. Always "dressed for success," they sport bracelets, necklaces, facial markings, buttons down the front and the like. It is those very things that create the appeal of the tabby. People enjoy the variety of angles and swirls and the arrangements of spots, stripes and circles that comprise the various tabby patterns. Since no two tabbies are identically marked, those of us who are owned by a tabby can enjoy finding the subtle differences between one mackerel tabby and another's, "zeroing in" on the unique characteristics of our individual cats.

How do we define those wonderful tabby patterns?

I often say, "Tabby is not a breed! Tabby is a pattern!" That said, a number of breeds of pedigreed cats sport a tabby pattern either as the primary pattern or as one of a number of patterns. First, let us review the variety of tabby patterns that decorate the domesticated cat: the mackerel tabby, classic tabby, spotted tabby, ticked tabby, and the patched tabby patterns.

Tabby Patterns

The mackerel tabby pattern is characterized by narrow stripes or pencillings that are parallel to one another and run around the body. These markings are suggestive of the bones of a fish -- hence the term, mackerel. The legs are barred with narrow bracelets and the necklaces around the neck and across the chest are plentiful. The face of the mackerel tabby has numerous "mascara lines" which run over the head and down the neck to the shoulders. The spine lines are knit together and resemble a narrow saddle.

Cats with the classic tabby pattern (also know as the "blotched" tabby), also have dense, well defined markings. However, the arrangement of those markings differs from the markings of the mackerel pattern. The cat with a classic tabby pattern has swirls on the cheeks and unbroken lines which run back to the shoulders from the face starting from the outer corner of the eyes. The lines running over the back of the head extend to the shoulders form the shape of a butterfly. On each side of the flank of the classic tabby is a large, circular, solid blotch, which is enclosed by one or more unbroken rings. This configuration is often referred to as a "bulls-eye" or a rosette and is one of the most appealing features of this pattern.

While still possessing the typical tabby bracelet and necklace markings, the spotted tabby cat's body markings are primarily composed of spots, which may vary in size and in shape. The spots are distinctive and well separated. The spine line is also generally composed of spots and the markings on the face, head, chest and legs are characteristically tabby. Spotted patterns may be derived from a "broken" version of either the mackerel or classic patterns where these patterns are broken up into the spots. A classic spotted pattern will have a more random effect while a mackerel-based spotted pattern will have the spots appearing to line up in more regularly spaced vertical lines.

In the case of the ticked tabby, all of the usual kinds of tabby markings are present on the face, legs and tail of the cat, but there are no spots, stripes or blotches on the body. The body hairs of the ticked tabby are ticked or banded with various shades of color.

The patched tabby pattern occurs in female cats that are first of all, mackerel, classic, spotted or ticked tabbies. The colors of red or cream are intermingled or present in definite patches on the body, head, legs and/or tail. Like the colors tortoiseshell and calico, the patched tabby colors are almost always seen only in female cats.

Are there still more variations to this glorious parade of tabbies?

Tabby and White Persian / Colorpoint Shorthair All of the tabby patterns described above can be accompanied by white. The tabby and white cat may have a small amount of white such as a spot or two on the stomach or chest (lockets) or white feet (mittens). Most commonly, a tabby and white cat will have nearly equal amounts of tabby and white present. When a cat is almost all white with only small areas of tabby pattern on the head and tail, the pattern is referred to as the "van" pattern.

Under the influence of the Siamese gene, tabby markings can be brought out to the "points" (the face, feet, ears and the tail) of the cat. Cats such as these have bracelets around the ankles, rings about the tail and facial tabby markings. The components generally seen across the body are not present although, as the cat ages, the tabby pattern will often color in on the body presenting what is commonly called "ghost markings." Cats with tabby markings "at the points" are called "lynx-points."

Can you tell me about the importance of tabby pattern in some breeds?

There are a number of pedigreed breeds where one of the tabby patterns is the predominant pattern for the breed. For example, the spotted tabby pattern is the predominant pattern of the Egyptian Mau and the Ocicat. In the Abyssinian, Somali and Singapura cats, the ticked tabby pattern is the only pattern allowed. A brief review of each of these breeds will provide some insights as to the importance of the tabby patterns and why a large number of pedigreed cat fanciers value the tabby patterns.

The Abyssinian and Somali

Abyssinian-SomaliMany consider the Abyssinian cat to be the closest modern representative of the "sacred cat of Egypt." The first pairs of cats said to be from Abyssinia (but possibly actually arriving from India and thereabouts), were brought to England in the 1860's. The Somali, the longhaired variety of the Abyssinian was introduced to North America following World War II. The characteristic difference between the two breeds is the length of the coat.

These cats are distinctively marked. Both the Abyssinian and the Somali coat pattern are influenced by the same genetic model -- the ticked tabby gene, which is responsible for the "agouti" or ticked tabby pattern. This same pattern is seen in other animals with which you are undoubtedly familiar, such as the squirrel and the wild rabbit.

While the tabby jewelry of necklaces, bracelets, chest button and tail rings are missing in the Abyssinian and the Somali, there are a number of vestigial tabby markings on the face. Mascara markings and tracings around the eyes and across the face give away the underlying influence of the ticked tabby gene.

The coat of the Abyssinian and Somali cats reflects warm, vibrant color. Every hair is distinctly banded with colors that range from darker to lighter hues and tones. This color distribution gives the coat a brilliant, multicolored, opalescent quality that is remindful of many feral cats. The coats of the Abyssinian and Somali are resilient and silky to the touch, snapping back in place when a finger is run against the direction of fur growth. Abyssinian and Somali colors that are currently exhibited in North America include ruddy (orange-brown with black tipped hairs), red (sorrel or cinnamon), blue and fawn.

The Singapura

SingapuraThe Singapura also derives its pattern from the ticked tabby gene. The Singapura is a small to medium cat with a ticked tabby patterned (agouti) coat (the same pattern found on the Abyssinian and Somali cats). As with the Abyssinian and the Somali, there are a number of bands of different colors present on each hair shaft. There is also some barring allowed on the inner front legs and back knees of the "'Pura" which are the remnants of tabby bracelets. As with the Abyssinians and Somalis, further remnants of the full tabby pattern are visible on the face and the forehead of these cats. Singapuras all have the same coloring - brown ticking on an old ivory ground color.

The Egyptian Mau

Egyptian MauWhile there are those who consider the Abyssinian cat to be the original "sacred cat of Egypt," many give that distinction to the Egyptian Mau. The Egyptian Mau is the only naturally occurring breed of domesticated cat and nearly all the members of this breed exhibit the spotted tabby pattern.

The Egyptian Mau torso is randomly spotted. The spots vary in size and shape and can be small or large, round, oblong, or quite irregular. Very distinct spots with good contrast between pale ground color and deeper markings are the most desirable. The forehead is marked with characteristic "M" and there are facial frown marks, which form lines between the ears. These lines continue down the back of the neck, ideally breaking into elongated spots to form the spine line. The face and cheeks are barred with "mascara" lines. On the upper chest there are one or more broken necklaces and the upper front legs are heavily barred with bracelets. The chest and the stomach have the usual tabby "vest buttons." Colors that are exhibited in North America include bronze, silver and black smoke.

The Ocicat

OcicatThe Ocicat is a man-created (or rather woman-created) hybrid breed sporting a spotted tabby pattern. This breed resulted from the deliberate combination of the Abyssinian, the Siamese and the American Shorthair breeds. The first Ocicat was an unexpected result of experimental breedings contrived to produce a ticked-tabby point Siamese-style cat. Virginia Daly of Michigan had originally set out to create an "Aby-point" by breeding a seal point Siamese and a ruddy Abyssinian. When she began to work with the offspring from the first mating, she discovered an ivory kitten with golden spots in a subsequent litter. The kitten was named Tonga and the new hybrid was termed the Ocicat because it resembled the Ocelot - a wild variety of cat. Further hybridization with the American Shorthair breed was done to increase the variety of colors as well as to add to the stamina and muscular conformation of the breed.

The combination of the ticked tabby gene and the Siamese gene further assisted by the mackerel tabby pattern introduced by the American Shorthair has created a pedigreed cat which combines the spotted beauty of the wild cat and the predictable temperament of the domesticated cat. The Ocicat is available in a number of colors such as tawny spotted, chocolate spotted, cinnamon spotted, blue spotted, fawn spotted, lavender spotted, silver spotted, chocolate silver spotted, cinnamon silver spotted, blue silver spotted, fawn silver spotted and lavender silver spotted.

Geneticists such Dr. Clyde Keeler, who had studied the inheritance of the Burmese and Siamese genes, were delighted when hearing of the results of Ms. Daly's breeding program. Many such scientists had dreamed that a spotted domesticated cat could be developed and promoted to provide a reasonable alternative for the public's desire to own wild, and in some cases, vanishing feline species.

Where else might we see tabbies in pedigreed cats?

When you consider that the most prevalent pattern among domesticated cats is the tabby pattern in one form or another, it should not be surprising that there are a number of pedigreed breeds which recognize the various tabby patterns and therefore have a category for one or more of them. In addition to the breeds where a tabby pattern is the only or the predominant pattern that breeders work with, tabbies are recognized in all but a few competitive breeds. The only breeds that do not have a tabby class designated among their various colors and/or patterns are the Balinese, Bombay, Burmese (North American and European), Chartreux, Havana Brown, Korat, Russian Blue, Siamese and the Tonkinese.

The following breeds have one or more tabby classifications in their descriptive standards:

    * - Commonly referred to as Lynx Point.
    ** - All patching must be in the pattern at the points.
    *** - Himalayan Division.
A quick scan of the breed standards for most breeds reveals that there are a significant number of points allotted towards the proper coat color and pattern intricacies - particularly for the tabby patterns. Through the rigors of breeding to a standard that precisely describes each tabby pattern, the goal becomes one of breeding the "perfect" classic tabby patterned cat or the "perfectly marked" spotted tabby.

What is the most dominant of the tabby patterns? Is there a tabby personality?

Perhaps more importantly, breeders who work with pedigreed cats are working to preserve the colors and patterns that we have all come to appreciate in the tabby spectrum. Theoretically, if all breeding of cats was to revert to random selection by the cats themselves, we would eventually only have cats with the mackerel tabby pattern because it is genetically dominant over the other tabby patterns. Strangely enough, however, in the show ring, the mackerel pattern seems to be the least common in some breeds!

There is no special tabby "personality." Unlike Harry (of Harry and Tonto fame), tabbies in general are not likely to leave their warm and cozy homes to explore the great beyond. Unlike the *wicked twin tabbies* Dwnn and Taliesin (two tabbies that have their own web site), tabbies are not prone to devilish antics and pranks.

The tabby that is a pedigreed cat derives his or her personality as a representative of the breed of which he or she is a member. While many would label the Abyssinian a "turbo-tabby," the characteristic active and inquisitive personality of the Aby is more a result of breeding than the ticked tabby gene. The tabby Persian cat will most likely have the easy-going disposition, consistent with the Persian cat in general -- not the classic or mackerel tabby pattern gene. And the red tabby American Shorthair has the personality of the American Shorthair and is not likely to indulge in lasagna as does Garfield!

About the Author: Pat Jacobberger has been an active member of a CFA cat club since 1972, and is an Allbreed judge whose travels have taken her to numerous countries around the world. She was instrumental in the development of CFA's Mentor program. Her expertise with the colors and patterns of the domestic cat has resulted in "Identifying Colors and Patterns in the Domesticated Cat" which is an integral part of the CFA Breed Awareness and Orientation Seminar, and is also in use by the National Animal Control Association as a training guide. . An accomplished and witty writer, Pat's articles have been published in Cat Fancy and The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book.

 


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