The tabby coat pattern is the most common coat pattern in the wild. The tiger is a striped tabby, the leopard is a spotted tabby, and the lion is a tabby agouti. It is also very common among domestic cats, particularly those of mixed breeds. We see tabby cats all around us, it's easy to forget just how special and fascinating this pattern really is. There's so much to say about it, we need an entire article!
This pattern appears especially useful as camouflage for the different feline predators. Hiding behind the grass blades of the African savannah, or in the branches of a leafed tree, spots and stripes can make a cat virtually invisible to its prey.
This evolutionary success story makes the tabby pattern very popular. In fact most cats have a tabby pattern, although it is sometimes very vague and hides in the background of seemingly solid colors. If you look closely at a solid colored cat under good light, you will often note indistinct tabby patterns in the background. White is the only color that is truly solid and has no tabby nuances.
What Is A Tabby Pattern?
The tabby pattern is created by two types of hair color:
The first type is composed of the hairs that make the lighter background color. These are called agouti hair and are unique in their coloring. If you look closely at one of the agouti hairs, you will see that it has several bands of different colors along its length. This creates the ticked base color in any tabby pattern.
The second type is made of the darker hairs that create the unique tabby pattern on the agouti background.
All tabby cats and kittens share similar marks on their face. These marks include dark lines that go from the eyes toward the back of the head and special marks on the cat's forehead that resemble the letter "M". These marks are visible in all tabby pattern variations and colors. They are called the "tabby mask".
The tabby can exhibit one of four sub-patterns:
Striped Tabby, where the cat has vertical stripes along its body. This is sometimes called a "Mackerel" pattern, because of the resemblance to a fishbone. In a show- quality striped tabby, the stripes should be whole and evenly spaced.
Blotched Tabby, where the two shades create a blotched pattern of rounded stripes and circles. This is also called a "marble" pattern.
Spotted Tabby, where the dark color appears in spots all over the agouti body. In a show-quality spotted tabby, the spots should be round and evenly spread.
Ticked Tabby, where there is only ticked agouti hair all over the body. There are no clear markings other than the tabby facemask. This pattern is typical in several breeds, such as the Abyssinian and the Singapura, but is otherwise rare.
The tabby pattern shows itself in various colors. You can have tabbies in black, red, blue, chocolate, cream, and many other colors. Ticked tabbies usually come in red, ruddy, blue, and fawn shades.
The tabby pattern can also be found in combination with other color patterns. For instance, a cat can be a bi-color with a combination of red tabby and white. Calico cats can have patches of white, black, and tabby red. The tabby markings will show on the coloured patches. Tortoiseshell cats can have a special pattern in which the overall Tortoiseshell pattern is intermingled with tabby markings all over the body - this is sometimes referred to as a "torbie".
Colorpointed cats can also have tabby markings. These will show only on the darker parts of the cat's body - the face, legs, and tail. These tabby colorpoints are sometimes called "lynx" cats.
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