How Do Tabby Cats Get Their Stripes?

How Do Tabby Cats Get Their Stripes?

Are tabby cats a breed of cat?

No! “Tabby” isn’t a breed of cat, but simply describes their coat pattern. The patterns can vary from stripes to whorls to spots to patches. All these variations give a distinct appearance to the cat. However, irrespective of the patterns, all tabby cats have an “M” shaped mark on their forehead, between and just above their eyes.

How do tabby cats get their stripes?

The answer lies in a branch of biology called genetics. According to the laws of genetics, genes are responsible for our appearances. Imagine each gene as a bead. Now, when you string many genes together to make a necklace, the color of the necklace will depend on the color of the beads. Changing the color of the beads will eventually change the color of the necklace. Similarly, in tabby cats, a particular gene is responsible for their stripes. 

This gene is called the DKK4. The gene works wondrously during the early development of the fetal cat. The gene is expressed in some parts of the body but not in other parts. Think of this as a necklace with white beads and only a few dispersed black beads. Likewise, wherever the DKK4 gene is expressed, the skin thickens. The thick areas mark the regions where darker fur will appear whereas the thin areas mark the skin that will have lighter fur. 

Thus, the DKK4 gene forms a type of map on the cat’s body. Like roads that are marked with dark ink, the stripes on a tabby cat are marked with darker fur. 

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What changes the shape of stripes on a tabby cat?

Another interesting gene called Taqpep is responsible for the shape of fur patterns in tabby cats. Cats that carry one version of the Taqpep gene have dark, narrow stripes, while those with a mutant version of the gene end up with large whorls of dark fur. This “whorl” version of the gene is most common in feral cats.

What about all-white or all-black cats?

You will be surprised to find out that all-white or all-black cats also have a pattern under their monocolored fur. The reason they do not display these patterns on their coat is that there are two different processes that determine the color pattern of their coat. One creates the pattern during development and the other translates this pattern to produce different pigments which appear as patterns.

Interestingly, in all-white or all-black cats, another instruction signal does not allow the second process to take place. Thus, despite having patterns on their skin, they are of a single color with no stripes or patches. 

After reading the above paragraph on tabby cats, answer the following questions:

  1. What does “tabby” mean for a cat?
  • The species of the cat
  • The genus of the cat
  • The pattern of the coat
  • All of the above
Ans: c  
  1. What is responsible for the stripes on a tabby cat?
  • The species of the cat
  • Genes responsible for the coat color
  • Mutations
  • Pollution
Ans: b  
  1. Which gene(s) give(s) tabby cats their distinctive coat patterns?
  • DKK4
  • DKK
  • Taqpep
  • DKK4 and Taqpep
Ans: d  
  1. Why don’t all-white cats have stripes?
  • They have stripe patterns on their skin but the pigment isn’t formed
  • They don’t have patterns for stripes
  • They form stripes after turning 5
  • All of the above
Ans: a  

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