Arrowhead, Paw-Print, Doughnut: A World Of Bengal Rosettes
Although the initial burst of hype surrounding Bengals has long subsided, today's Bengals are far more advanced in duplicating the look of the original Asian Leopard Cat (ALC) than the examples of even just a few years ago.
One of the most unique identifying factors on a Bengal are its marvelous spots and rosettes, which come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and patterns.
Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a clear definition to each.
Spots: Spots are one colour on a background coat colour.
Rosettes: Rosettes are spots that have different shades of colour.
Some Bengals have a lot of little spots that make them look a bit like a miniature leopard, and others have but a handful of huge rosettes. I have to admit that the latter is my favorite and it's also considered quite desirable when showing the breed. Bengal breeders for years have been trying to outdo each other in producing absolutely enormous rosettes and some of the effects are definitely striking!
Help! I'm Seeing Spots!!!
There are several major types of Bengal rosettes. The original, "garden variety" spot is solid and somewhat round or sometimes a bit ovoid. That is a very basic type of spot and most breeders these days are trying to achieve the more "wildcat" look of arrowhead-shaped rosettes which differ all the way from simple dual-tone spots all the way to complete rosettes that consist of a partial semi-circle (similar to a crescent moon) of spot around a clearly lighter center section. When the outer circle goes all the way around it becomes a doughnut. The pawprint rosette is quite rare and features several little dark rings around a lighter central spot.
Bengal cat breeders are the natural-born enemies of striping, thus they try very hard to keep the spots as random or horizontal in alignment as possible. After all we're breeding Bengal cats, not Bengal tigers! You can see by the photo of the ALC that the spots in this original ancestor of all Bengals is very random with large and very clearly defined rosettes that are extremely clear and just jump out from the background colour. When the spots line up to form a "striped rib" that is generally known as one of the greatest sins in Bengal breeding and is an automatic express ticket to "pet status" for any Bengal kitty. After all, Bengal breeders are trying to duplicate that very elusive "wildcat" spot look that can come as close to the ALC ancestor as possible.
The Official Bengal Breed Standard, as revised 05/01/2004, states it all officially:
Spots shall be random, or aligned horizontally. Rosettes showing two distinct colors or shades, such as paw print shaped, arrowhead shaped, doughnut or half-doughnut shaped or clustered are preferred to single spotting but not required. Contrast with ground color must be extreme, giving distinct pattern and sharp edges.
Bengal breeding is not only a task to adhere to the standard, but it is a measure of personal preference as well. There are many Bengal breeders and Bengal fans who absolutely adore marbles and snows. Call me a purist, call me an extremist, call me irresponsible, but the only cat I would want to breed is a conventional spotted Bengal. Marbles and snows just don't do it for me. It isn't just a matter of personal preference, but I believe it is backed up by facts. On the snow background it is almost impossible to get enough contrast from the background so that the spots stand out as they should. And the marble is a lovely cat, but to my eye it has no cosmetic marking resemblance to the ALC. If it is the case that the Bengal breed is to attempt to duplicate the ALC's cosmetics with the docility and intelligence of the Bengal cat, then marbles and snows are not true Bengals at all.
Snow and marble fans can send me hatemail now! :)