Jim Davis, a famous cartoon illustrator once said, “In my head, the sky is blue, the grass is green, and cats are orange.” That must be why his most famous creation, Garfield, is painted the color of marmalade!
This idea that cats are commonly orange stems from the fact that it is one of the most common feline colors ever since the dawn of time.
Don’t believe us? Here is a brief history (plus other fun facts!) about these cuddly balls of tangerine.
But First, Let’s Get Two Things Straight
1: Orange tabby is not a breed; it’s only a color!
It may look like orange tabby cats are a breed in itself－there are just so many of them!－because of their distinct color. But in truth, they transcend all sorts of breeds, shapes, and sizes of cats. You can find an orange Maine Coon, Persian, Devon Rex, and Burmese, among others.
Where does the orange color come from? Scientists discovered that all cats are black and red colors by default. The one that decides their final shade would be the melanin they got from the parents. To get the orange shade, pheomelanin must be more dominant than the eumelanin (responsible for shades of black).
2: Tabby is not a color; it’s a coat marking
All orange cats are considered tabby cats, but not all tabby cats are colored orange. There are some with the color of black, gray, tan, and brown, among others.
What’s more, there are no solid orange cats. All orange color patterns have a streak of tabby in them, no matter how light the color is.
The word “tabby” refers to the distinct pattern of color shades at their coats. There are five types:
- Classic: streaks of bold patterns in the shade of black or gray are swirled around the cat’s coat (think: marble cake).
- Mackerel: vertical lines streak down from a long, bold line from the vertebra part of the cat, much like a fishbone laid out on your cat’s fur coat.
- Spotted: solid-colored spots are scattered around the orange fur.
- Ticked or Agouti: the streaks may not look distinct at first, if at all, because the colors mesh so well together as small tufts of different-colored hair were confined in one space. The orange color may be scattered between the others or concentrated in one place such as the face or paws.
- Tortoiseshell: the rarest color of them all. Tortoiseshell tabby cats have two distinct shades－black and orange, and can combine based on the first four patterns. Most tabby owners do not consider tortoiseshell as a separate coat marking.
Now that we’ve straightened that part out, let’s talk about how they came to be.
3. They have Asian-African-European descent
Experts believe that the tabby pattern comes from crossbreeding Asian, African, and European wild cats. These ferocious felines were around since 131,000 years ago. However, they were domesticated for only 10,000 years.
Today, the genetic makeup between the cat sitting on your porch and the wild cats from ages ago are still closely similar.
4. And maybe Turkish, too
Remember the fact that tabby cats have different types of coat patterns? Scientists were able to trace back the origin of non-mackerel patterned felines. Apparently, they first appeared in 14th century Turkey!
5. They’re feline farmers
Or, at least, a cost-friendly helper of farmers. Some of the early Mediterranean farmers discovered the ability of the domesticated tabby cat in chasing pests and rodents in their fields. In time, they received and took care of them as pets and home companions.
Because of their usefulness in agriculture, these cats were shipped all over Europe and other parts of the world, further breeding them along the way.
6. Iraqi residents named them
Nobody clearly knows where the word “tabby” comes from but some believed that it was derived from the name of a neighborhood called Attabiyahwhich can be found in the city of Baghdad, Iraq where the silk cloth called atabis or tabis is produced.
Tabis is described as a taffeta silk cloth with striped patterns that resemble that of the modern tabby. Combine “tabis” with “cat”－”tabis cat” or tabby cat!
It may be a huge reach to believe it; but hey, it’s a good story to consider!
7. Meow-hammed or Meow-ry
Have you ever noticed that orange tabby cats have a distinct “M” etched on to their foreheads?
In one story, the Prophet Mohammed of the Islam religion was said to have given it as a gift for the loyal service of his feline friend, Muezza. The prophet has the habit of placing his hand on the kitty’s forehead as it cuddles near him.
Christians also have a version of its origins. It was said that a tiny orange cat cuddled next to baby Jesus to keep him warm during one cold night. Mother Mary was touched and kissed the young feline’s forehead, with the letter M signifying the Virgin’s “kiss mark”. Other versions said that she only stroked the kitty’s forehead.
Whichever version you believe, aren’t you glad your orange tabby’s descendants are hanging with the right crowd?
8. Or is she Cleopurr-tra’s friend
Another story said that the M stands for “Mau” which is an Egyptian term for “cat.” It also means “vision” and “light.” With this in mind, it’s not a wonder ancient Egyptians worship cats.
Tabby’s Personality and More
Now, it is time to get to know the orange tabby’s personality, unique features, and weird behavior!
9. They’re a fraternity
Okay, not really. But most orange tabby cats are males－which make them eligible to form a fraternity, after all. Studies show that for every 80 males, only 20 females are born. Thank genetics for that.
The “orange” gene is only carried by the X chromosome. If you remember in your biology class, females have XX chromosome, while males have XY. Male orange cats only need to have one orange parent to get the marmalade color, while female orange cats need both parents to be ginger-colored before being one.
10. Freckles galore
Both redhead humans and cats seem to have the “freckle” gene. In orange tabbies, freckles are observed to be solid black spots formed around their nose and mouth.
11. Personalities vary
Like any individual, orange tabby cats have different personalities. Some are tame and quiet, while others are outgoing and crazy. Scientists continuously emphasize that temperaments are not based on color or coat markings but on the breed and environment.
12. Garfield is REAL
Again, not really. But one thing that creator Jim Davis got right when it comes to ginger cats is that they LOVE to eat anything and everything you put (or even not put) in front of them. Yes, that includes lasagna.
Orange tabbies can steal food from your child, the pantry, and even from your dog if you leave food lying around the house. Not to mention that eating too much can lead to obesity which tends to be a common medical issue among them.
13. They hold a Guinness World Record
Speaking of obesity, did you know that an orange tabby cat holds the title of “The World’s Fattest Cat”? It was given to Thomas Vyse’s ginger cat Himmy. At the time of awarding, he weighed about 47 pounds!
Upon his death, however, the Guinness team stopped handing over the title for fear that cat owners would force their kitties to become obese just to topple Himmy’s record.
They Made the Purrs Famous
Orange tabby cats are no Taylor Swift, but these felines are still familiar to cat fans, thanks to their distinct shade. These celebrities made them all the more popular with other mortals.
14. Political connections
Historians say that Winston Churchill is extremely fond of felines－so much that he owned two orange tabby versions of them: Tango and Mickey. According to some colleagues, these two lucky kitties were always tagged along during cabinet meetings and feisty banquets and nobody on the table is allowed to eat until they are seated comfortably.
He even famously insisted that marmalade cats must be able to live comfortably in his residence even after his death. Faithful to his wishes, there is an orange tabby cat named Jock still living at his Chartwell home.
15. The Queen loves them
Not Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II (despite her former prime minister’s fondness to them), but the British rock band Queen, specifically Freddie Mercury – the group’s lead singer. He owned a rescue ginger cat named Miko and another orange tomcat which went by the name of Oscar.
Some friends claimed that Freddie always calls his London home phone just to talk to his feline friends while on tour.
16. Betty White, too
Betty White, the longest-running female TV entertainer, traced her love for animals when she owned Toby, a cute and affectionate orange tabby cat, when she was young. Her wonderful experience with him brought her to the decision to become an animal health advocate.
A Feline Purr-is Hilton
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Here are famous orange cats which made headlines that had the world shaking (or laughing!).
17. They are pop culture feline Kings
Aside from Garfield, other famous orange tabby cats in pop culture include Puss in Boots from the Shrek franchise, Oliver in Oliver and Company, Milo from The Adventures of Milo and Otis, and Morris from 9Lives cat food commercials. It’s not surprising, then, that people nowadays associate cats with the color orange!
18. You never forget the first
The first orange tabby cat ever produced in literature was actually Orlando the Marmalade Cat. Katherine Hale derived the protagonist of her children’s books from her own ginger cat of the same name. Orlando’s adventures were first published in 1938.
19. Ginger as…mayor
This one is a true story. One town in Alaska named an orange tabby cat, Stubbs, as its mayor and has been ruling all over the 900-resident Talkeetna district until his death.
How’s his governance, you say? Well, the townsfolk were very happy with how he led, primarily because the feline never hikes up the taxes.
20. They are also luxury hotel endorsers
Algonquin Hotel, one of the most luxurious and historical establishments in Midtown Manhattan, employs cats as its mascot since the time it opened in the 1920’s. Its new endorser, Hamlet the rescue ginger cat, is the 12th feline and also the first male to get the role.
21. Ginger as…fortune tellers too
stray orange tabby cat that goes by the name of Baidian’er－meaning “white spot” in Chinese as a tribute to the patch on his nose－correctly predicted six winning results of the recent World Cup by choosing the cat food bowl that has the team’s flag on it.
Sadly, Baidian’er recently passed away due to a heart defect he had at birth.
Love them or hate them, there’s no denying how these adorable cats made a mark both in history and our daily lives. So the next time you choose a cat that you want to give a forever home, include these marmalades to your considerations!