When has a cat been described like a fish? In the previous article on The Five Tabby Cat Patterns, the mackerel pattern was discussed. This is the most popular type of tabby cat pattern, and also the one sported by my kitty, Tabby. It is a beautiful fishbone pattern of tiger-like stripes on both sides of the cat’s body, emanating from one main, long stripe running down its spine. Here we will delve into the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the mackerel tabby cat.
The “M” – Does it Stand for Mackerel?
Most tabby cats have an “M” pattern on their foreheads. (Go ahead, go look at your own tabby cat to check – I did the first time I read this neat fact!) While M is the first letter in mackerel, it does not brand a cat as a mackerel tabby cat. Cats of all patterns can have the classic M striping on their foreheads.
There are many legends behind why mackerels, and other tabby cats, sport the distinctive “M.” One legend says that the prophet Mohammed had a cat named Muezza. One day, his cat was sleeping on the sleeve of Mohammed’s robe. As he didn’t want to disturb kitty from slumber, instead he cut off the sleeve of the robe so that he could wear it while Muezza still slept. The M, therefore, on the tabby’s forehead is said to refer to Mohammed, the cat’s protector.
Egyptian legend says that the M stands for Mau, the Egyptian word for cat.
Biblical legend says that the M stands for Mary, mother to baby Jesus. It is said that a tabby cat laid next to baby Jesus to keep him warm in the manger. She marked the cat’s forehead with an M to show her gratitude.
Mackerel = Fish- Loving Cats?
It is also not true that all mackerel tabby cats love fish. Some cats might, of course, but savvy cat lovers know how finicky their feline friends can be, and can surmise that not all mackerel tabby cats love fish (just as all cats don’t love fish).
The true reason that mackerel tabbies are so named is the fishbone tiger-like stripe pattern on their bodies. Mackerel tabbies have the long stripe running down their spines, with shorter, tiger-like stripes coming from that main stripe on both sides of the cat. Stripes also cover its arms and legs, and are usually on the face as well.
Mackerel = The Oldest Tabby Pattern
The mackerel tabby pattern was the first tabby pattern to appear in domesticated kitties. It is thought to have originated from African and European Wildcat genes. It is believed that these two ancestors mixed, producing the mackerel tabby cat pattern we see in our furry friends today. If you own a mackerel tabby cat, he or she still possesses some of that same DNA.
Witches and Mackerel Tabbies
There are many myths and legends surrounding these unique tabby cats. Although many people think black cats are classically associated with witches, this is not true. Witches in the 16th and 17th centuries chose mackerel tabby cats as their “familiars,” and these mackerels acted as a witch’s companion and assistant, helping them to create magic. Some thought that these mackerels were reincarnations of the dead, or victims of the witch’s curse who had come back to life as a cat. It was also believed by many that the mackerel tabby cat was a “shapeshift” of the witch herself. Regardless of their function for the witch, mackerel tabby cats have long been seen as a sign of good luck.
Mackerel = The Most Intelligent Tabby?
Mackerel tabby owners would argue that their kitties are more intelligent than all other cats. (I certainly would!) They do manifest a higher intelligence than many other cats, and are known to be adventurous, frisky, and highly inquisitive. They can be too curious at times, and have been known to get into trouble if left to their own devices.
In fact, some mackerel owners claim that they have been able to train their mackerel tabby to signal when they need something (such as a paw movement, indicating that they want to go outside or are hungry). Mackerels have been known to follow their owners around the house, like a dog. Also doglike, many mackerel tabbies can play catch and fetch! They will figure out their owner’s routines quickly and can often predict their behavior.
So if you are a mackerel tabby owner and think your cat seems smarter than the rest, it is quite possible that you are right!