Debunking All the Myths about the Mackerel Tabby Cat

Mackeral Tabby

Mackerel tabby cats have a distinctive layout to their fur that would almost suggest they happen to be their own specific breed of the feline species. However, this is not entirely the case. The term “tabby” simply refers to a stripe-like pattern formation of a cat’s coat while the “mackerel” is merely a nickname given due to the “M” that is often found on their foreheads. There is really nothing special about the mackerel tabby cats as far as a purebred species is concerned because this is something they are not, at least not entirely. Tabby kittens, when born, earn their stripes from the dominant gene that is transformed from the sire or dam. Most of the time, this is by chance, especially among the feral cat population. It is perceived the reason why the striped tabby gene is so dominant is due to the camouflage capabilities it has. This perception is a myth. While there is truth there’s something in the gene pool that would play a factor in a newborn kitten’s coat pattern, it’s not enough to lead a convincing enough argument that the random tabby cat, whether it’s specifically mackerel or not, has the power to produce a litter of kittens that can all be classified as mackerel tabbies.

However, there are cat fanciers who do specialize in a breeding program focused on mackerel tabby cats as it is the most popular variant of tabby cats. Another nickname these cats have is “tiger cats,” which has also resulted in the misconception that these domestic felines have a direct link to the much bigger cat breeds such as tigers. The only thing these two types of cats have in common is they are considered members of the feline species. That is how far their actual relation goes. Even the stripe colors don’t match as tigers are known for the color mix of orange, black and white stripes while the domestic tabbies are black, grey, and white. There are also beliefs that mackerel tabby cats and the African wildcats are closely knit to each other, especially since the earliest documentation suggests mackerel tabby cats originated from the timing of Ancient Egypt. However, this again is not the case. While the patterns may seem similar, that’s as far as it goes. There is also no direct connection between the mackerel tabby cat and the European wildcats. The evolution of the mackerel tabby cats is strictly among the family of domestic cats, which vary in size, color, and pattern everywhere.

Some believe the mackerel tabby cats are direct descendants of the Maine Coon cats as that breed of cat has also been known to sport the same stripe colors as the mackerel. However, the math doesn’t add up there either as Maine Coon cats aren’t always sharing the stripes among even each other. It is also believed there is a direct connection to the Norwegian Forest Cat as there are similarities to be found there. While there is little doubt mackerel tabby cats may have traces of a Main Coon heritage or Norwegian Forest Cat heritage, this is no different than any other mixed breed of kittens that come from random litters throughout the globe. Calico cats and tortie cats, both of which have distinctive markings of their own, share the same “luck of the draw” characteristics as every form of tabby cat there is, including mackerel. There are cat fanciers who appreciate the mackerel tabby cat to the point where there are breeding programs in place where a distinguished line of mackerel tabby cats is the ideal result. When it comes to cats, just like dogs, cat breeders over the stretch of time have learned to mostly control the development of specific breeds they’ve taken interest in. The mackerel tabby cat is among the desired lineup of the domestic feline species that find itself in this category. However, this does not mean the mackerel tabby cat started out exactly like this since the beginning of time. There is no evidence supporting this theory.

According to Webster’s Dictionary

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term tabby owes its roots to a type of taffeta with a wavy surface produced in Baghdad called “attabi,” which is named after the neighborhood it was created in. It was called tabis by the French, and by the early 17th century, the English began using the term, “tabby.” As of the 18th century, the term tabby was the description used with cats who sported the striped combination of black, grey, and white. The term “mackerel” was adopted as a nickname for the tabby cats due to the stripes lining along with the skeletal structure of the cat that resembles the bone layout of fish.

They’re Not Prophetic

Folklore has it the “M” feature typically found on a mackerel tabby cat is in connection with Muhammad, the mentioned prophet mentioned within the Quran, the holy book belonging to the religion known as Islam. It is believed by some members of the Muslim community that mackerel tabby cats have a prophetic connection to the god whom they worship, Allah. Believers of Egyptian folklore run with the idea the upside-down chevron markings above the eyes have a connection to the virgin mother of their deity of worship, Horus. There’s also some belief the mackerel tabby cats share the exact same lineage as the infamous Egyptian cat god, Bastet (Bast for some). Ancient Egyptian culture has always had a fascination with all cats and is not limited to strictly the mackerel tabby cat. The design of the mackerel tabby cat over the stretch of time seems to be closer contributed towards gradual evolution in pigment color. Also, contrary to the belief mackerel tabbies were involved with witchcraft as familiars, this is a fable they share with black cats. While there were indeed women who engaged in witchcraft that were close to cats, but this association wasn’t strictly isolated to just the black cats and mackerel cats. During medieval times, all the female cats were regarded as tabbies, regardless if there were stripes in their fur or not.

One Life, Not Nine

At one point, people really thought cats had nine lives, especially the mackerel tabby cats. Again, this is contributed to the myths people developed revolving around men and women who practice witchcraft. At one point, the panicked people during medieval times took it upon themselves to rid the world of cats, both male and female. It didn’t matter what color of fur the cat had nor whether or not it was striped, speckled, or spotted. Due to the zeal the population put into almost making the domestic cat an extinct species, there were no longer enough cats around to control the population of various rodents and insects. This is what directly lead to the spawn of the bubonic plague and how it wiped out over two-thirds of the entire European population. This bout of madness that took place partially debunked the theory that cats, including the mackerel tabbies, had nine lives. However, the tale continued despite the facts and there are still some people today who believe this theory about cats. There is also the belief that mackerel tabby cats have a better overall immune system than the other cats, but this isn’t true. Cats, just like people, have immune systems that are passed down from generation to generation, based on the environment they’re in, as well as whatever they come into contact with that can cause a health concern.

It’s a Coat, Not a Color

When describing the mackerel tabby cat, many people will refer to them as a color. It’s not a color. It’s a pattern. Although the typical coloring is black, grey, and white, this isn’t always the case all the time. There has been the occasional mackerel that may have some orange, or some could have some brown. Yellow is also a color that can appear on a mackerel tabby. Again, the mackerel tabby is not simply defined by color nor species. It’s a pattern, all striped, and even each has its own pattern per cat. Just as people have different fingerprints, so do mackerel tabby cats who have different patterns. Furthermore, not all mackerel tabby cats have to strictly stick with the striped patterns, either. Mackerel tabby cats have also known to be blotched and spotted.

Myths vs. Facts

When going on the internet, or anywhere that has folklore and facts about the mackerel tabby cat, there is a clash of information where one backs the myths and legends while another challenges it. Since the beginning of time, cats have been part of the great animal kingdom and in more than one variety. Have tabby cats been around since the very beginning? The answer to that question would be a most likely yes. Are tabby cats, especially the mackerel, a genetic breed of their own that is every bit original as the Persian, Siamese, and Turkish Angora? The answer to that question is both a yes and a no. Before specific breeds of cats, as we know them today even got a name, there are only ten, in particular, that stick out as true originals. However, even in that regard, there is no scientific evidence that even among them there is one in particular that has proven to be the official first breed of domestic cat in existence. While the mackerel tabby cat does have roots that date as far back as some of the days of mankind’s earliest civilization, there is not enough scientific evidence to go on that suggests they have been their own specific breed all this time. Informative sites that bring forth information about tabby cats of all kinds, including the mackerel, will insist they’re not simply a mixed breed of cats, but there is no scientific evidence even backing that claim. Most of the various breeds of cats, as we know them today, earned their titles through deliberate breeding programs people laid out in order to develop and maintain an ancestral lineup. Even among the ten breeds of cats that are suspected to be among the oldest in existence hasn’t been proven they started out that way. For the mackerel tabby cat line, the same can be said about them.

As mentioned previously, there have been breeding programs in place to ensure there is a steady lineage of mackerel tabby cats. Although such programs have proven their credibility, even within those programs when two mackerel tabby cats mate, the litter of kittens produced may not always come out with the typical physical features most associated with them. Instead of coming out spotted or striped that makes their coat of fur look like the skeleton of the fish, the kittens can just as easily be born with traits resembling the patterns found in calico or tortie cats. Also, not every mackerel tabby cat may have the coat pattern exactly matching the scale layout of a fish, nor the trademark M on their foreheads. Does it mean when this happens the kitten of mackerel tabby cat parents is now disqualified to be called the same? For some, the answer will be no while for others it will be yes. Time and time again, mythologies and science have clashed against each other on every subject. Even the original roots of mankind itself have differences of opinion as bible believers will firmly stick with God’s Word while nonbelievers will favor a different side to the argument. All the different species of animals, plus their own breeds, also come up in argument as not everybody seems to agree on everything. The topic of cats, including mackerel tabby cats, fits into this category as well. Cat fanciers who continue to stick with stories that mackerel tabby cats have a direct lineage to deity-related roots are not likely to change their minds, no matter how much science is thrown at them by cat fanciers who disagree with their beliefs. Mackerel tabby cats do indeed have a long history attached to them, but how much of it truly is a fact as opposed to beliefs based on folklore and heresy will remain as a topic of debate by people who will never bring themselves to an agreement.

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