The tabby pattern itself 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.
The pattern somewhat resembles a fish skeleton, which is why this tabby cat came to be known as the mackerel. People also call it “tiger cat” because of its resemblance to its larger distant cousins in the wild.
If you’re a cat lover, you probably already know everything about mackerel tabbies. But if not, here are five little-known facts that might just turn you into a fan.
1. They Are the Origin of the Tabby Pattern
It’s been found that the mackerel tabby pattern was the first variant to appear in domestic cats. The 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 clear.
Sometime in our distant past, these two wildcat breeds intermingled and created the familiar mackerel tabby pattern that we see today. The pattern emerged in more domestic cat and became widespread – thanks to genetic mutations which were the result of selective breeding.
To this day, the gene responsible for the mackerel tabby pattern is actually still present in the DNA of many other cat breeds; although 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. They have been known to display higher intelligence compared to other cats and 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 tabbies 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 even know it!
3. They Are Immersed in Legend
A cat breed with a rich and time-worn history is bound to be involved in plenty of ancient legends and the mackerel tabby cat is no stranger to being at the center stage 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 which is provided courtesy of the ancient Egyptians goes 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 also 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. As we all know, Jesus was born in a stable, where there were plenty of animals around.
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 leaped 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 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 vile creature.
Muezza also fell asleep on his sleeve at one point and to avoid disturbing the kitty, Muhammad cut off the sleeve from his robe rather than wake it up.
4. They Were A Witch’s Best Friend
Contrary to what we know of modern Western and European ideology regarding black cats, a 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 deceased humans or polymorphed victims of a witch’s curse. Other beliefs were widely held 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 typically tends to learn about misfortune and dangerous consequences by placing themselves in the situation.
Curiosity sometimes gets the better of these felines which will lead them to explore new and forbidden places.
A mackerel tabby kitten should be watched closely during the first months of its life, as its ability to get into trouble is unparalleled in the cat world and could lead to harm. It should not be allowed to play on high areas or near water.
Given their tendency to get into trouble, tabbies are on their best behavior 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.