Bengals are undoubtedly one of the most striking looking breeds of domestic cat. Bengals are usually bred to look like their wild counterpart; the Asian Leopard Cat, and the wilder they look, the better. This leads to them having incredible markings, as their ancestors would have done in the wild. As with all animals with intricate markings, each individual is unique. But within the Bengal breed, there are some main variants which are recognised by the GCCF and TICA, and even some which aren’t.
If you are just buying a Bengal as a pet, the precise markings are not important, however, if you are interested in owning a show or breeding Bengal, ensuring you purchase a Bengal with the most desirable color and markings will be your make or break. In this guide, we will explore the main variations within the breed which you can choose from.
The main types
Recognised by the GCCF and TICA are two colors, two types of markings. The main background colors are either brown or white, known as snow. In addition, two different colored eyes are possible within the snow coloring. The markings are either spotted or marbled. In total, therefore, there are six variations which a Bengal could be.
Spotted Bengals are more common than marbled Bengals, and Brown are more common than Snow Bengals, meaning that you are most likely to come across a Brown Spotted Bengal, and you should count yourself lucky if you own a Snow Marbled Bengal.
Snow Bengals can also have two variations in eye color; blue or any other color (AOC). This leads to six distinct recognised breed variants by the GCCF: The Brown Spotted, the Brown Marbled, the Blue-Eyed Snow Spotted, the Blue-Eyed Snow Marbled, the AOC-Eyed Snow Spotted and finally the AOC-Eyed Snow Marbled.
The USA, TICA has slightly different classifications to the GCCF, and therefore you might see terms such as sepia or mink used. Nevertheless, Bengals in the USA are very similar to the UK.
There are two main colors; brown and snow. However, these classifications are fairly broad, and even within the colors, there are many variants. Brown, for example, can be sandy, grey, golden, or deep red, and a red tone is the most desired. These variations are due to the Asian Leopard Cat coming in a variety of colors.
A distinct characteristic of the Bengal is that some individuals have a glitter to the coat. This is when it appears that the tip of each hair is coated in gold dust due to a lack of pigment in the tip of the hair. It is highly desirable in the Bengal world, and quite striking when the coat catches the light. ‘Tory of Delhi’ was the cat who was instrumental in establishing the glitter gene in the Bengal breed. Delhi was a good-looking domestic cat who was found wandering in the rhino enclosure in New Delhi zoo in 1984. He became owned by Jean Mill, who used him to breed with her F1 queens in the hope of the off-spring acquiring his remarkable rufous glittery coat.
Whilst the majority of the coat is one background color, the bib and belly should be of a lighter color, almost white. This is different from the white bib and belly of a tabby cat, as the markings still continue into this lighter fur. If there are white spots in these areas, this trait is known as locket. It is fairly rare and undesirable.
There is a new color variant which is now gaining more recognition, particularly in the USA, and this is the Silver Bengal. The silver color has been developed from outcrossing Bengals with Silver Spotted American Shorthaired cats. The silver gene, however, is recessive, and therefore both parents must be silver to pass on the gene. The color can be registered within both TICA and the GCCF, but currently, it can only be shown for Champion status within TICA.
There are two main types of markings; spotted and marbled. Each of these types of markings can vary in shapes, sizes, patterns and definition. Some may have few, large markings, and others may have many smaller markings, however the former is more desirable for a show or breeding cat.
The spotted markings are more common than marbled markings. The ideal distribution of spots will be symmetrical and even across the back, sides, and on the white underbelly of the cat. They should not meet up and form lines, as this is an undesirable characteristic.
There are quite a few types of marble patterning which might be seen. The most common marbling pattern is tri-colored, with the marble, the background and the centre all being different colors. A more uncommon version of marbling is called horizontal marbling. Some describe it as looking like the markings on a snake, where several bands of marbles run across the shoulders and back of the cat. There is also the chaos marbling pattern, which is more random than other patterns. This is often when swirling of marbles and rosettes are present on the back and shoulders.
Snow Bengal cats unfortunately only develop their markings over the first few months, and therefore if you are looking for a Snow Bengal with clear markings, you may have to either take a chance on one or ask for it to be held back for a few months to see how it develops.
Many Bengals also have an ‘M’ shaped marking on their forehead. This is a marking which is not characteristic to the Bengal breed though, as it is also seen in the domestic Tabby cat. This suggests the genes were contributed to the gene-pool through early Bengal generations breeding with domestic cats. In addition to this marking, bold mascara markings, in the form of horizontal stripes alongside the eyes, are desirable.
Up until recently, only one type of coat has been recognised in the Bengal world, which is short-haired. This coat should be shiny and smooth. Now, however, long-haired Bengals have recently started appearing. This can only be achieved through breeding long-haired Bengals or short-haired Bengals who are carrying the recessive gene and is known as a Cashmere Bengal. It is not recognised within TICA or the GCCF for Championship status, however, may become recognised as more are introduced.
Genetics are complicated and inevitably, there are often cases where a Bengal with an unusual appearance is born. These might be kittens with a blue coat or ticking or melanism. Melanistic Brown Bengals appear to just be normal black cats, but in certain lights, the intricate markings will appear. Melanistic Silver Bengals are now being called Silver Smoke Bengals.
The Bengal breed is still in its early days, and therefore variations of the breed are discouraged. This is because they make it much harder for focused breeders to achieve the aim of reproducing cats with the appearance of the Asian Leopard Cat. A dedicated Bengal breeder, who wishes to establish excellent genetic lines, will only breed cats which are accepted in the outlined breed standard.