Tabby is a type of coat, not the breed of the cat. The English term tabby originally referred to “striped silk taffeta,” from the French word tabis, meaning “a rich watered silk.” Mackerel, classic, ticked and spotted are the four distinct patterns. This one, would be considered, the most popular, Mackerel.
The mackerel tabby cat has stripes that run perpendicular to the cat’s spine and line his legs and ring his tail. The tiger-stripe tabby pattern was dubbed “mackerel” because the stripes coming off of the cat’s spine resemble a fish skeleton. a large percentage of feral cats are tabbies because the gene is so dominant and it’s most likely the dominant gene because the pattern is best suited for camouflage.
The classic pattern has bold, dark lines, swirls and bullseye patterns. Their sides are highly decorated and they generally have thick, dark lines running down the middle of their back.
The ticked tabby pattern is due to even fields of agouti hairs (fur coloration in which each hair displays two or more bands of pigmentation), each with distinct bands of color, which break up the tabby patterning into a salt-and-pepper appearance that makes them look sand-like—thus there are few to no stripes or bands.
Spotted Tabbies have small spots that form a pattern, instead of the characteristic lines of the classic & Mackerel patterns. Spotted patterns are found naturally on most wild cats & are often found on more exotic domestic breeds.
All tabbies will have the ‘M’ mark on their foreheads like my Cort here. Well known tabbies are Heathcliff, Garfield and Bill the Cat (Bloom County) in comic strips. Thomasina is from the 1963 Disney movie. Chessie is the kitten for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) that I have posted about (read here). The Adventures of Milo and Otis is a 1989 movie where Milo is an orange tabby and in advertising Morris the Cat was the mascot for 9Lives cat food in 1969.