As the most common cat species, the tabby is surprisingly misunderstood. For example, most people don’t realize that every domestic cat has the tabby gene. Those not easily identifiable by stripes, swirls, or spots are known as “pale tabbies.” These undercover tabbies possess other genes that essentially cancel out the classic tabby markings. However, even some watered-down tabbies can’t hide a tabby’s most distinctive sign: the letter “M” on its forehead.
You may have a true mackerel tabby with bold fur patterns, or your cat’s tabby genes may be undercut by a solid color or calico fur, but either way, your feline friend has some interesting stories to tell Related, can explain this unmistakable mark. Of course, DNA and genetics have the real answers, but humans have explained the phenomenon of the letter “M” in more creative ways throughout history. This is why tabby cats have an “M” on their foreheads as we know them.
While technically every cat is a tabby, we usually only consider a cat to be a true tabby if they have one of four classic patterns: swirls, spots, stripes, or check. Like all other physical traits, these markers are controlled by genes. Without getting too deep into your high school biology textbooks, every kitten inherits genes from both its mother and father. Because the tabby gene is dominant, only one parent that is a tabby can have a kitten with tabby markings.
But why does every tabby have an “M” on its forehead? The reason behind this particular marking is unknown, but it may have something to do with the classic tabby fur pattern. Tabbies typically have fine markings on the face and legs, while the markings on the torso are bolder and more dramatic. Whether a tabby has tiger stripes or swirls like a marble cake, the limited “canvas” area on a cat’s face creates thin lines that resemble the letter “M.”
Outside the world of Ponzi squares and DNA sequences, humans have tried to explain “M” through a series of stories and legends. Here are three of the most popular.
M is for Mary
A famous story associated with the “M” on the tabby’s forehead dates back to the Christian story of Mary and the Nativity. Baby Jesus, born in a manger, had a cold and had no blanket to keep him warm. His mother did everything she could, including holding him in her arms and convincing the barn animals to come closer by their warmth. Despite her efforts, her newborn continued to cry and shiver with cold.
It is said that when Mary was at her most desperate, a friendly tabby cat walked into the barn and curled up next to the baby. The cat’s body warmed baby Jesus, and its purrs lulled him to sleep. To express her gratitude, Mary then stroked the cat’s forehead and left her initials in memory of the tabby’s kindness and comfort forever.
Mao and Meow
It is well known that the ancient Egyptians had a special relationship with domestic cats. Their name for cats is “mau”, which can also be translated as “sun” or “light”. Whether the name has anything to do with the sound cats make (the meow) or the way their eyes glow at night, the ancient Egyptians associated cats with the moon and considered them worthy of respect.
Legend has it that ancient Egyptian cats had an “M” on their foreheads, symbolizing their nobility and their relationship to the luminous moon. The Egyptian Mau is one of the oldest cats in existence, and for centuries they have carried the glorious stamp of the moon.
muhammad and mueza
The final story about why tabby cats have an “M” on their forehead comes from Islam. In this legend, Muhammad (the founder of Islam) had a tabby cat named Muezza. Mohammad considered Muezza a friend and made sacrifices to ensure the cat’s comfort and safety.
One day, Muezza repaid him by saving Muhammad from a snake that crawled out of the sleeve of his robe. Muezza killed the snake and the prophet offered some thanks. First, he gave cats the ability to always land on their feet. Next, Mohammed left his personal mark by stroking his cat’s forehead. This mark is to show the world that Muezza and all other tabby cats are loved by him and all of Islam.
Next time you gaze lovingly into a cat’s eyes, move your gaze up to their forehead. Can you see an “M”? If your cat is an undercover tabby, you may want to take a closer look and experiment with different angles and different lighting. However, if your cat is a true tabby, the “M” is hard to miss.
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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