Tabby describes a common pattern of markings in cats. The pattern has multiple variants, one of which is the mackerel tabby pattern. This variant is characterized by black stripes which run perpendicular to the cat’s spine and ring its tail.
This pattern somewhat resembles a fish skeleton, which is why this tabby cat came to be known as the mackerel. People also call it a “tiger cat” pattern because of its resemblance to its larger cousins in the wild.
If you’re a cat lover, you might already know everything about mackerel tabbies. But in case you don’t already, here are five little-known facts that might just turn you into a fan.
1. They Are the Origin of the Tabby Pattern
The mackerel tabby pattern was the first pattern variant to appear in domestic cats. These cats’ unique markings were found to have originated from a mixture of European Wildcat and African Wildcat genes.
These ancestors of the mackerel tabby featured the same vertical striped pattern, albeit less distinctly.
Sometime in our distant past, these two wildcat species intermingled and created the familiar mackerel tabby pattern that we see today. Eventually, the pattern emerged in more domesticated cats and from there became widespread, thanks to selective breeding that favored the genetic mutation leading to the pattern.
To this day, the gene responsible for the mackerel tabby pattern is still present in the DNA of many other cat breeds, though the markings are no longer visible.
2. They Are Geniuses
Genius might be an overstatement, but mackerel tabby cats are certainly not your average kitty. Its devotees claim that mackerels display higher intelligence compared to other cats. While this may be impossible to prove, it’s clear that, as a group, they are inquisitive, adventurous, and playful.
Some owners have reported that their mackerel tabbies are smart enough to give a signal when they want something; for example, pawing the door knob to indicate hunger or an urge to use the bathroom. Other mackerels follow their owners around and even know how to play catch and fetch.
They’re very keen at picking up routines and will oftentimes seem to know what you’re going to do before you do!
3. They Are Immersed in Legend
A cat breed with such a rich and time-worn history like the mackerel tabby is bound to be involved in plenty of ancient legends. Indeed, the mackerel is at the center of some of mankind’s most unusual and interesting myths.
Most of the legends involving the mackerel tabby cat revolve around the placement of the “M” marking seen on its forehead and how it came to such a prominent position.
One legend of the ancient Egyptians suggests that all cats were called “Mau” because of the “meow” sound that they made.
Mau actually translates to “seeing” or “light”, and this name was supposedly chosen because of how a mackerel tabby cat’s eyes shone bright at night just like the Moon does.
The Egyptian Mau is an actual rare breed that exists today—a direct descendant of those felines from ancient times!
Another popular myth involves the boy child Jesus Christ and the nativity scene, which featured plenty of animals.
The story goes that the night was chilly and the animals attempted to provide the child with body heat, but they were too large to be effective. A nearby tabby cat leapt into the manger and snuggled up to young Jesus.
For doing its part in helping her son, Mary marked her initial, “M”, on the tabby cat’s forehead to show her gratitude.
A similar tale of protection is told in the Islamic world about the prophet Muhammad and his cat, Muezza. Once, a snake went up the prophet’s sleeve and his pet tabby assisted him in promptly dispatching the creature.
Muezza also fell asleep on his sleeve at one point and to avoid disturbing the kitty, Muhammad cut the sleeve from his robe rather than wake Muezza up.
4. They Were A Witch’s Best Friend
Contrary to what we think we know of modern Western and European mythology regarding black cats, the witch’s familiar of choice during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was the mackerel-patterned tabby cat.
A witch’s cat was known as a “familiar” and served as a lifelong companion and assistant, bound by an unknown magical force. Familiars assisted their masters with creating spells and researching magic.
Some believed them to be reincarnations of dead people or polymorphed victims of a curse. Other beliefs that were widely held were that the cat was the shapeshifted form of the witch herself, or that of a demon.
They were powerful bringers of good luck and protection—an idea widely inspired by the Egyptian cat goddess Bast, or Bastet, who was one of the most honored ancient feline deities.
5. They Are Extremely Adventurous
Cats are naturally headstrong and curious creatures, and the mackerel tabby cat is no exception to the rule. The breed allegedly tends to learn about misfortune and dangerous consequences by putting themselves in risky situations!
Curiosity sometimes gets the better of these felines, which leads them to get into trouble when they explore new and forbidden places.
As with all cats, a mackerel tabby kitten should be watched closely during the first months of its life, as its ability to get into trouble is claimed to be unparalleled in the cat world. A mackerel kitten should certainly not be allowed to play in high areas or near pools or larger bodies of water (nor should any kitten!).
Given their tendency to get into trouble, mackerel tabbies are safest when kept with another cat or another pet to keep an eye on them. They’re often known as the “dog” of cats, given the many qualities which they share with canines such as high intelligence, trainability, and endearment towards humans.
There may be no way to prove that a mackerel tabby is any more playful, adventurous, or intelligent than other cats, but that won’t keep mackerel lovers from asserting that these felines are special!