Personality of a Mackerel Tabby

I’m stuck for a topic tonight, so I grabbed this phrase that someone typed in and was somehow led to my site.  It has been a number of years since I actually had a mackerel tabby — Julie is a classic tabby.

I imagine that the question comes from the same reductionist mindset that considers red-headed people to be more ‘firey’ than normal folk.  For humans this could happen because the parents of said child might tend to let a red-head get away with things that would get a brunette a spanking for being a brat.  Cat parents are unlikely to have any similar biases.

My own non-scientific observation is that personality in a cat is to a great extent learned rather than inborn, and any inherited part must be in a large set of genes in order to produce the fine shades of results required.  If it were tied to one gene like the Tabby gene, then there must be only as many different kinds of personality as there are kinds of Tabby gene…which is two kinds…Tabby and Classic.

But wait, it gets worse!

There’s no reason to think that the personality effect of the Tabby gene would only be present if the fur pattern is visible.  Every cat has a Tabby gene, but its expression might be hidden by the Agouti gene (as in Calpurnia and Gus), or by the Dominant White gene or even by White Spotting gene. So a cat with a “Mackerel Tabby Personality” might not appear to be a tabby at all.  And in this case, it would be a personality that is shared by more than half of all cats in the world.

And even if you had such an indicator, it would not do you much good, since so much of how a cat acts is a reflection of how everyone acts around it.  A naturally shy cat may react well to a quiet person and environment and become open, and the boldest cat may become invisible in a loud and chaotic environment.  Even overly exuberant displays of affection can be too much for a cat, which sometimes leads to the seeming paradox of the cat attaching more to someone who likes the cat less.

Calpurnia has a quirk in that regard that I might have mentioned.  In some ways she is the boldest of the cats – she runs less from visitors, or from the vacuum cleaner than the boys. Yet she has a tendency to skitter away from you when you are standing up and walking around.  But if you lie down flat she will pop up and visit within minutes.  So is she more brave, or less, than the boys?

You can’t fit a cat into a box like that.

But if you put the box onto the floor they will fit themselves in most of the time.

About Oldcat

Engineer with Cats
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16 Responses to Personality of a Mackerel Tabby

  1. I love it! MOL It’s like saying there are only 12 kinds of people which depends only on what stars were in the sky when they were born! it always blows my mind to think that all cats have the tabby gene.. Look at my kitties, solid gray, where’s the tabby? Hiding I suppose. Star does have one tiny white dot that is hard to photograph, but it’s more than Leo has. But in no way can you say it’s a stripe!


    • Oldcat says:

      The Agouti locus will mask Tabby pattern if the aa pattern inherited from the parents. The other combinations AA, Aa, and aA will let the pattern show. If the cat is orange, though, the aa combination can’t mask the pattern and stripes will show regardless. Since your cats are black, though, it works for them. The dilute gene fades Star and Leo to ‘blue’.

      Small white areas are called buttons if on the belly or lockets if on the chest front are controlled by one or more genes that aren’t well understood. It is known that a tendency to have them or not is inheritable. Julius has one, the others may or may not, as the White Spotting masks this.


      • Doh! I should have known that blue was a dilute black! I never look at them that way though, lol. When I was a kid I had a dilute calico that I swear looked blue pink and white, she was too pretty! But I don’t think any kitty color is called pink, more’s the pity!
        I learned that Star’s little dot was called a locket just recently, probably from you, and I think that makes it even more adorable!
        What surprises me, is Leo not having any white spots, since his mother was a white and tabby who looked very main coon to me. Probably where he got his huge size, but certainly not his color.


      • Oldcat says:

        Dilute ‘red’ or orange is called ‘creme’. So a dilute tortie s blue-creme. I had a blue creme tortie with a locket for 20 years.

        Since most of Leo’s main color genes are recessives (dilute, non-Agouti, no white spotting) half of that comes from the mother. His not being orange is due to mom alone, as the dad contributes the Y gene in the pair. Apparently Mom had a lot of dominants making her coloring, and Leo got none of them (except possibly black).

        It is an odd rule that in a lot of cases the more exactly you can identify the child’s genes the less sure you are what the parents looked like.


  2. Love the last comment. So true.


  3. nadbugs says:

    This is what makes you great. Starting out looking for subject-matter and ending up having found a huge and important point : We *all* are complex beings and how we are dressed is a small part of a very big picture. LOVE IT!! Plus FANTASTIC pictures of the cats. Well done with the camera tek-stuff too. You got it going on.


  4. kimkiminy says:

    Love that last analogy. It’s perfect. I’ve found that cats’ personalities are as varied as humans’. Every one is a completely different person.


  5. littlemiao says:

    Great post. Kitty personalities, like people personalities, are definitely too complex to classify easily or connect to genetics or whatever. They’ll fit into whatever box they please, but hop out just as easily.


  6. What is a mackerel tabby anyway? Is it a special pattern of its coat? Thx for sharing the info & charming pix!


    • Oldcat says:

      There are two basic patterns for tabby cats. The Mackerel tabby is the “normal” look (in the US at least) where there are closely spaced vertical stripes on the side of the body. The name comes from the similarity to the pattern on the Mackerel fish. Sometimes they are called “Tiger tabbies” because tigers also have vertical stripes, although mackerel tabbies don’t have the breaks that tiger stripes do.

      A “classic” tabby has thicker stripes, and they make a “bullseye” or “swirl” on the side of the body. The famous internet star cat Maru is a classic tabby, as is my cat Julius.


      • Thank you for the very detailed response! I had my cat, Frankie, stand next to me as I read out the response. We agree that he is probably a Mackerel even though his first vet called him a red tabby, we thought he was a Tiger and he sounds like a Siamese!


      • Oldcat says:

        Well “red” is just a reference to color, which can be black (or lighter shades) or red/orange (or lighter shades). I have some pages on the menu – Fun with Genetics and Analyze your Cat to explain and show how genes make the cat coat color and pattern.


  7. Ashley says:

    Wow so lol


  8. It’s going to be finish of mine day, except before
    finish I am reading this impressive paragraph to improve my experience.


  9. Emma says:

    Your cat ain’t a maccreal it is a totally different tabby a maccreal has short grey fur with black stripes and a little yellowish white on the chin your cat is not a maccreal


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