Theophanes is a New-England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of cats.
Why Are They Called Money Cats?
A long time ago, when I was just a wee child, I spotted a cat running feral on a farm. It was a white cat with big orange and black cow spots.
I was told that they were called money cats because males were so rare that they could be worth thousands. I forgot about this old wives' tale until many, many years later when I started to learn about cat color genetics on my own.
Why Are Calico Cats Usually Female?
The answer is pretty simple... if you know color genetics. Supposing you don't, I've written it as simply as possible.
Most males have XY chromosomes. That's not an abbreviation for something—the chromosomes actually make up the shape of an X and a Y.
On the other hand, females have XX chromosomes, meaning they have an extra "leg" to store information.
In female cats, part of their color genes is found on the extra leg of the second X.
This means that a male cat with the same colorway will either be black or orange—but he cannot be both, as the second color gene cannot be located on an extra "leg" that doesn't exist.
Can Calicos Ever Be Male?
Yes. It is extremely rare, but it can happen. That being said, they are unusual in more than just color. The fact that they are calico means something strange must have happened involving their DNA. They are mutations of an extreme, but usually benign, sort.
Some may have the appearance of a male but have the extra chromosome of a female. These can be hermaphroditic cats, sharing the qualities of both sexes, either at a base level with the chromosomes or at a visible level to the average cat owner.
Calico males of the XXY variety are always sterile. However, there are other conditions that may cause a male cat to be a calico.
Are Male Calicos Worth a Lot of Money?
This depends if there's someone looking for a male calico cat.
Generally speaking, what makes an animal extremely valuable is its rarity and its ability to breed and create more of itself, however, male calicoes are worthless as breeders. Most are sterile, probably due to the fact they are not truly male.
There have been at least three cases of male calico cats who were able to breed, however, they never produced more male calicoes. Instead, they produced the same kittens a regular orange male would. The reason for this sounds like it comes out of a science fiction novel but it's actually something that happens in real life in very rare cases.
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These cats were chimeras—in that is when their mother was pregnant with them two fetuses merged in the very early developmental stages. This created a perfect cat with two types of DNA. One set of DNA gave the cat its calico color while the other set gave it its reproductive parts. In essence, the cat may have been calico, but his sex was not.
This explains why he produced the same kittens as an orange tom—as one of the merging chimera fetuses must have been meant as an orange tom should it have developed independently of its sibling.
What’s the Difference Between Calico and Tortoiseshell?
I get asked this a lot and it's really simple. Calico cats are essentially white cats with big orange and black spots on them.
Tortoiseshell cats, on the other hand, have black and orange hairs that are dispersed much like a brindle dog's coloration. Occasionally you'll see a dilute tortoiseshell who has blue and cream hair instead of black and orange, but the pattern stays the same.
At other times tortoiseshells will sometimes have white patches on them, called appropriately "tortoiseshell and white," but again, they will not display the calico's trademark cow spots.
Are There Different Kinds of Calico?
Yes. Here is a simple list.
- Classic Calico: A white cat with big black and orange spots.
- Classic Tortoiseshell: A cat with orange and black hairs intermingled like the brindle of a dog.
- Dilute Calico: A calico with an additional gene diluting the original colors. Black will become blue (gray) and orange will instead be tan.
- Dilute Tortoiseshell: A cat with intermixed blue and tan hairs.
- Tortoiseshell and White: A tortoiseshell cat who also displays white patches.
- Dilute Tortoiseshell: A cat with gray and tan hairs intermingled.
- Dilute Tortoiseshell and White: A cat with intermixed gray and tan hairs which also displays at least one white patch.
- Calico Tabby: A calico cat who has stripes over its colored spots.
- Dilute Calico Tabby: A gray and tan calico with stripes over their colored patches.
- Tortie Point: A tortoiseshell cat who also has the Siamese marking gene. This will make the tortoiseshell colors only appear on the cat's face or tail, and they may or may not also have color on their paws.
- Dilute Tortie Point: These cats will have blue and tan hairs only on their face, tail, and possibly paws.
Is Calico Found in Other Animals?
Yes, calico can be seen in a variety of animals, from rabbits to chickens. However, they are distinct from calico cats in the sense that calico coloration in these animals is not sex-linked. They can be either male or female.
This is because their color genes do not reside on the extra leg of the XX chromosome. But there is another sex-linked calico animal, which is the yellow gene found in Syrian hamsters.
Just like cats, any animal showing this coloration will be either female or a male with a very rare and unusual mutation.
Are Calico Cats Meaner Than Other Colors?
I have had the luxury of dealing with a number of calico cats and save for two (one a purebred Persian) they were all within the range from aloof to downright nasty. That being said this might not be due to color so much as bad breeding (All of them were moggies—mixed breeds found in feral populations before being brought back into society.)
My mother insists orange cats are ill-natured but it's for the same reason—she had a succession of feral orange cats dropped off on her who were all downright mean.
Currently, however, I have an orange pointed Snowshoe who is the sweetest most lovable thing you could ask for, "Oh, he's white..." she'll say!
So it all depends. My own experience and that of my vet tech friend have been almost 100% negative, but we might just be unlucky! (I mean, most cats don't respond well to having an abscess drained, and perhaps it's not so much the color but the situation in her case!)
Where Can I Find a Calico?
The calico colors are accepted in many purebred cats, including, but not limited to:
- Devon rexes
- Maine coons
- Turkish Van
- Scottish Fold
- Hemingway Cats
However, if breed is not something you care about, calico cats show up in shelters all the time as they are a pretty easily bred color for feral cats to reproduce.
Because most of these are not bred intentionally there will be a lot of diversity in color, fur length, temperament, etc so take your time in picking a new pet if this is the route you choose.
Katniss Evermew on September 01, 2019:
I had a domestic shorthair tortie with white who was extremely timid around strangers but quite affectionate to her family. In fact, she loved to lie on her people and be petted. So, the stereotype about the antisocial tricolor cat certainly didn't apply to her. I handled her a lot from a young age, though, and I think getting a kitten acclimated to frequent contact can overcome a genetic predisposition to be aloof. On the other hand, I neglected to get her used to being carried when she was little, so she never did tolerate that. You could snuggle up with her and love on her all you wanted, but the minute you tried to pick her up, she'd panic. Just goes to show how much of a cat's personality is molded by their early experiences!
Also, just so you know, a tricolor tabby cat is called a torbie. ;)
Fay Favored from USA on August 19, 2019:
We have a rescue that looks like a Tortoiseshell, but I believe she's a Calico mix. Her feet are white and chest area that looks like she is wearing a vest. Plus she has one brown and white stripe leg. She's beautiful with a great personality. I think both breeds are extremely smart.
Faye Williams on May 10, 2019:
I have worked in Catteries for 6 yrs on both the East and West coast of Australia.
I have never seen a male Calico. I have seen many female gingers.
Heather F on April 20, 2019:
We took in a grey white tabby and her sister a calico with an oddly pointed face and different textured coat, like she was made up with the parts of 3 different cats. Also shes the real murdery one of the two
CalicoLuv on March 23, 2019:
What’s your favorite cat color? I love calicos! If I were to choose a breed,it would be a Manx. But I am not allowed to own a pet, except for fish.
Mea on November 02, 2018:
My baby girl is very attached to me to the point that she attacks me when i am leaving the house she is not kidding when she bites me she makes me bleed daily. Any suggestions would be welcome thanks.
Ab G on November 01, 2018:
Thank you this helped me figure out why my calico cat always has females.
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on May 04, 2018:
No problem DJ, glad you enjoyed the article.
DJ on May 04, 2018:
Thanks for this information. Cats are such lovely creatures, and their beauty is diverse.
Why Do You Care? on November 01, 2017:
A little while ago there was this feral calico kitten with an injured leg eating all the trash in my neighborhood. I think it was a male, but now that I know the rarity of such, I consider it might be female. I don't really know...
Christine E. on June 16, 2017:
I work with a rescue, saving, rehabilitating cats. I have fostered many cats, as well as socialized abused, abandoned, hoarding cases,etc. I also have owned cats my entire life. For me personally, every cat is different and unique, regardless of color. I have worked with many torties and calicos and most were sweet and loving once they got through the trauma they came from. My mom has a tortie we rescued. She's about 8 years old now. She can and has been temperamental to where she would attack her other 3 cats. However once I realized she was the "middle "child of the fur friends in the house, and was more or less being ignored. .things changed. She's getting the attention now, the affection and has calmed down and actually laid back and sweet. I do not believe that breed type plays a part in behavior. I do believe there are cats born that have chemical imbalances,or other issues that make them the way they are, and I do believe they behave bas ed upon how they were brought up and the situation they were in.
Frank on June 13, 2017:
We have owened cand still own Calico cats. They have all been very good tempered.
The one we have now iS HUGE and is our mouser out on our Farm/Ranch . But she still cuttles up with us in the bed at night.
john doe sucks on May 26, 2017:
i have that cat
John Doe on May 14, 2017:
I have a Moggie calico and she is the sweetest
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on April 23, 2017:
db1 - Thank you for commenting. I too have done a lot of rescue and worked with breeders and have had the joy of owning a number of calico and tories and let me tell you -- all of them were vicious. In fact the last one I name B****-Kitty. She was 2 pounds of roaring thunder - a mongrel kitten from a feral litter. The rest of the litter grew up sweet as can be as they were taken in very early but not her! She was so mean she'd seek people out to attack them, full claws, leaping onto their back and all. Don't even THINK of looking at or touching her! God bless her tiny warrior spirit. I must say I loved her for her pluck even if she was the worst cat on the planet. She was the last in a long line. Calico is actually my favorite color in cats (and Tories are the same gene but lacking the white if you really want to know... though that is already described in this article.) Someday I will likely have another.... but I don't expect it to be cuddly. Rescue cats can be holy terrors or wonderful regardless of color, fur length, or what-have-you, I would never tell anyone to avoid any particular color or breed so I am no sure why the outrage here.
db1 on April 22, 2017:
@Theophanes What a ridiculous thing to say-Calico cats are, in my experience, no different in temperament than any other cats. Where did that ridiculous notion come from? Your mother's anecdotal evidence is not nearly enough to support your theory. Or are you referring to Torties, which are just one type of Calico cat? They do have a certain reputation for being aloof and cranky, but that usually is a function of the fact that they are very clever and do not suffer fools gladly. Tortie 'Tude is legendary but the cats themselves are no "meaner" than others. They know what they want and they get it. They have the same bad temper any other cat exhibits when being annoyed, especially if they are being annoyed by humans. Get your facts straight before you post. This is one of the most irresponsible and ill advised posts I have ever seen here. It sounds as though you yourself have no idea of what the differences between Calico cats and Tortoise Shells are. As I said, yes, Torties are a type of Calico. That does not mean that their personalities are all the same. How could you have missed such a simple distinction? As those of us in cat rescue know, it can be very difficult to find homes for some cats due to stupid superstition. Don't make our work more difficult by perpetuating that. Black cats are still thought of as unlucky, and are hard to home. Torties, NOT Calicos, are thought of as "mean", so people don't want them. Now, you are adding all Calico cats to the list of "undesirables". Torties are awesome cats for the right human. Not overly cuddly, but they do tend to form very deep bonds with one person. Calico cats tend to be more or less just like all other domestic cats, as do Torbies, or Tortoise Shell-Tabbies. There are already thousands of cats in North America in need. Please do not make it more difficult to find any of them permanent homes. You're online-fact check instead of just repeating what your mother and your friend have told you.
Chloe on March 23, 2017:
My cat jasmine is a calico
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on March 10, 2017:
I meant to ask--what is the parentage for a Tuxie? Is it a form of calico missing the orange gene? Or is it simply a black cat and a white cat breeding?
I don't have any formal education in genetics, but the topic does fascinate me. I've read a fair amount, so I do understand about the XY chromosomes...and...a funny memory; a friend of mine got a nasty look from a biology teacher (male) for putting forth the theory that a Y chromosome was simply a defective X. LOL
kitty101 on March 10, 2017:
I love calico cats! They are great! Yes I have seen them at a lot of shelters though. I wish everyone could have one. They are soooo sweet and cuddly!
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on December 16, 2016:
DzyMsLizzy: That's wonderful, sounds like you have a houseful!
In response to your question: Although female orange cats are by far more rare than male ones they're not nearly as rare as a male calico. To produce an orange female kitten both parents would have to have the gene - in feral populations this is frequently a breeding between an orange tom and a calico queen. However since the calico is in a sense three different colors she'll usually throw black, black and white, orange, orange and white, and calico kittens. A male only needs one copy of the orange gene so a calico can give birth to one in any litter no matter who the father is. A female needs two copies, which means the father had to be orange.
So now you have a calico queen giving birth to kittens who are already a bunch of different colors, and now also needs an orange father. This means that if she gives birth to 4-6 kittens there's a somewhat good chance she'll have a female orange, but more likely she'll throw one or two every few litters or so as long as the tom remains orange. Of course an orange female to an orange male will produce all orange kittens too - this is just a much rarer occurrence in a feral population than a orange X calico! (And when this does happen it's often because natural barriers are causing a population to be cut off - forcing inbreeding to a certain extent.)
Hope that clears that up! Keep having fun with your lovely little moggies! :)
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on December 14, 2016:
Love the photos--they are great! We are currently fostering a group of semi-feral kittens for our local rescue organization. I have them fairly well socialized, but they sure don't like it if you try to grab them in a hurry; they'll show you just how fast a little kitten can run! LOL!
They are all from the same litter, and are a mixed bag. One is what I'd call a black and gray marble tabby; his brother is a silver tabby. Of the girls, one is what I've always heard called a 'smoke dilute tortie;' (And torties have what we call "tortitude." And this one sure does!) ; one is a dilute calico with the white bib; and the last is a brown/cream torbie. Mom is a tuxedo kitty; no clue about the dad; I guess he was a traveling salesman! ;-)
They are all real pistols, and love to scamper and climb...but just this evening, when I had left them on their own in our bedroom for a half hour or so, the little silver tabby managed to get up on top of a duffel bag on the top shelf of the closet!! Whoever adopts him is liable to have a curtain-climber on their hands...LOL (I didn't put that in his profile, though.)
It was interesting to read about the how and why of the genetics.
Value, of course, is always dependent solely on what someone is willing to pay.
We've seen a few female orange tabbies lately, and that was formerly thought to be as rare as a male calico. I wonder what gives there?
Great article--wish HP hadn't taken away our voting buttons!
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on December 14, 2016:
Sarah: Since male cats can't technically be calico (unless they're a chimera - two kittens fused into one cat at birth) it's more likely he just has a birth mark.... or maybe is a female. :)
Sarah on December 14, 2016:
I just got a light orange male kitten with white paws and a single, substantial grey spot on his tail. Are the same genetics likely at play for a "calico" with so little grey?
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on September 23, 2016:
Actually I did lose the Calico Tabby... to FeLV a number of years ago. She was three... and the worst tempered cat I have ever had the joy of dealing with but boy was she pretty! Made for a lovely barn cat for a while. Thank you for dropping by and commenting. :)
Synthia on September 23, 2016:
Have you by chance lost the calico tabby? She looks an awful lot like the one living in my backyard with her tortoiseshell mother.
CatalinaW on September 10, 2016:
I have a female tortiseshell, 2 female calico, 1 black male and one orange female, and they all have such good nature and friend, especially my calicos they insantly purr the moment you pick them up and one of them climbs up on my shoulders and wraps herself around my neck to sleep (she's currently doing it right now). i guess i just got really lucky with mine~
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on September 09, 2016:
Sorry Jenna Johanna. I have removed what I think was your photo, if not let me know. You may want to check out Wikimedia Commons. That's where I get most my photos from (and they're supposed to be for public use.) You may find your photo there as well. Sorry for the mishap but thanks you all for commenting. :)
Jenna Johanna on September 06, 2016:
Hello, I have the copyright of the calicocat in the snow, with the Jenna Johanna marks on it. Please remove my photo from the article, because it is not allowed to use my photos without my permission. Thanks a lot. Great article though :)
Catherine on September 03, 2016:
Our next door neighbour had a male Tortoiseshell who was also polydactyly and fertile, we got one of his kittens and she was Tortoiseshell and had double upper and lower fangs, and was a very sweet cat.We have never actually ever had a mean cat. You can train acat just like any other animal and it helps keep them from being bored.
Mellen on June 12, 2016:
Oh My Gosh...I'm late to this. I just Googled "What do they call a Calico with BIG spots & got your explanation, which is beautifully complete. I have to say that I strongly disagree with your assessment of their personalities. I have 3 (count them, THREE) cats with orange: A classic calico, a tortie, and an orange male (who is a pistol!). All are "mama's kids", are all over my daughter & I, sit on whoever will let them. None are grumpy or aloof. Maybe I just got lucky.
Sasha the Cat on May 08, 2016:
I have a calico named Judi who went insane when we moved her to our new home. She scratches the furniture more than she used to, and is a little more perinoid. We love her so much though (dad is no exception. He said maybe we should let her go, and I told him that was the worst idea he'd ever come up with, which is saying something because he comes up with a lot of bad ideas. I hope he's not offended). Anyway, I didn't know that rexes could be calico! I also have a gray tabby and an orange tabby. Like many cat-lovers, I've also read the 'Warriors' series (if you don't know what that is, it's a series about cats. Although, I don't recomend it to anyone who can't stand Harry Potter. It's pretty intense!).
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on February 08, 2016:
I am happy to hear that Susann. It's great when they find good homes. :)
Susann on January 31, 2016:
I enjoyed your article very much, found it interesting as my vet had told me all calico cats are female. We took in a calico about a year ago and she, Cali is the most sweetest and gentle cat ever, she is very appreciate of the home we have given her.
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on February 12, 2015:
Very neat PyroGirl86. He must have been very special. :)
PyroGirl86 on February 12, 2015:
my cat Sock's gave birth to a Male Calico, he was a very sweet cat & was very protective of his sibling's.
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on January 04, 2014:
Size is quite another thing. There is a gene that is favored in ferals, especially in cold climates, that causes great size in the males. We think this is because larger males have an easier time protecting territory. The interesting part is the females remain the size they normally would be (which can be very petite if that's what the rest of the family is!) Since no one I know of is actually working with this gene I don't know if it is dominant or recessive but my guess would be it is probably dominant. Maine Coons used to have this a lot but breeders worked on getting bigger females with other genes so the breed would be more uniform... you can see why this gene is either added to or avoided in the cat breeding world.
Orange is a dominant gene just like the white. That just means one or both parents have to orange in order to have orange kittens. The tabby gene is interesting too. I have an article up on that as well if you are interested in that. :)
tlmcgaa70 from south dakota, usa on January 03, 2014:
that is very fascinating. the father is orange tabby with white paws (both front paws have a heart shaped orange spot in the middle of the white). another thing i noted is that the father and his brothers (i took them and their mother in when the kittens were roughly 4 weeks old) are all large cats with large frames, while the sister (the tortie aunt of the new kitten) is small, like their mother was...and the new kitten is now roughly six months old and is showing already that she to will remain small...so, did the males pick up their size from their father while the females got their size from the mother? i have no clue what the father looked like, but i assume he must have been large and orange, because he fathered 4 orange kittens one tuxedo and one tortie. so the tortie comes from both parents, as did the tuxedo, while if i understand right, they mostly got the orange from the father?
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on January 03, 2014:
Yes and no. A solid blue cat crossed with a solid orange cat would give you any combination of orange, black, and Tortoiseshell (which can have varying degrees of black.) If either parent had white on them calico also becomes a possibility. And lastly if the orange cat caries blue you can also end up with blue and dilute calico or tortoiseshell mixed in as well. Your story is not at all unusual but it's nice to understand what causes these similarities. :)
tlmcgaa70 from south dakota, usa on January 03, 2014:
i found it interesting when my blue cat got out and got bred by my longhaired orange tabby, they had just one kitten...a black tortie. the orange haired male had a black torie for a mother. so she inherited it from her grandmother. she looks like her aunt, the orange males sister.
crazy people on January 03, 2014:
i did have a cat i don't know what i kind of breed it is i start to watch detective conan a manga and when i search tortoiseshell cat because i was curious i did see what kind of breed it is (it shows that i'm lucky)
Anne from United Kingdom on September 14, 2013:
Hi Again Theophanes.
I have friends who breed Bengals and laughed at you comments because theire´s get up to antics with water too. One of them refused to drink other than from the kitchen tap and quite a number of the off spring love to play in the water fountain. Their first Queen is the most maternal cat I have ever known and mothers everything in sight including the dogs, the first thing she used to do when let out of the cat pen was to go straight up to the dogs and give them a good grooming, you could tell the dogs hated it but she was so insistent there was just no getting away from her. Oh dear, draining that water cooler must have created a heck of a mess for you :(
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on September 14, 2013:
Huh, didn't know that about cat colors and the UK standards. Maybe there's no distinction in the show ring either? I did steal the word moggie - we don't use it here in the US. I think that's a shame. It's a cute word.
Anyway, it's not uncommon for half-breed cats to show up on the streets. People get purebred cats and don't fix them because they want to breed them later on. Their tomcat escapes the house one night and suddenly there's five litters of half Turkish Vans on their way! I've never seen one but I hear they're wonderful and gorgeous to boot. I did catsit a Bengal once that decided it'd be hilarious to drain a 5 gallon watercooler to watch the bubbles pop up in it. SIGH. Cats that love water can be such a handful. :)
Anne from United Kingdom on September 14, 2013:
In the UK all multi coloured cats are called tortoiseshell or tortoiseshell and white but after reading this hub I realise my last cat was calico as she was mainly white but had a big orange circle on her side and what was referred to as Turkish van cat markings on her face, she did like playing in puddles too so somewhere along the line ( she was a moggy not purebred) there may have been the Turkish van cat genes in her family tree as they are known to enjoy water so much they actually swim in it. Having said that All the torties or torties and whites I have known have all had odd little quirks, but then again don´t all cat´s ?
Interesting read never the less and a great answer as to why calico´s and torties are more than likely female.
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on September 14, 2013:
Thank you Daughter of Maat. I completely understand. One of the calicoes we had here for a while we named Moula (you know since she was a money cat) but over time it somehow morphed into Bitch Kitty. She was a 3 pound TERROR. Ripped my uncle up like a wild badger when he let her out and tried to catch her again. It's a funny story now but it wasn't at the time. Currently we have a tortoiseshell who is much like you describe. She lives outside is half feral and on a good day I can touch her... but that probably won't be for awhile because she recently rolled in something and turned into a cat-sized dreadlock. She was NOT happy with me pinning her down and giving her a haircut to ease the matter! SIGH... the pets and mousers we keep. :)