Why Are Calico Cats Always Female?
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 male ones were so rare they could be worth thousands. I forgot about this old wive's tale until many many years later when I started to learn about cat color genetics on my own.
Why Are Calico Cats All Female?
The answer is pretty simple . . . if you know color genetics, but supposing you don't I'll write it up as simply as I can.
Most male animals 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 are found on the extra leg of their second X.
This means a male cat with the same color genetics 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. They are extremely rare but they 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 along the way to make them that color, something involving their DNA. They are mutations of an extreme but usually benign sort.
Some may have all appearances of a male but have the extra chromosomes of a female, (being XXY) where its color comes from. These can be hermaphroditic cats, sharing the qualities of both sexes, either at just 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 Ones 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 but are rather hermaphroditic in nature.
There have been at least three cases of male calico cats who were able to breed, however they never reproduced 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 its actually something that happens in real life in VERY rare cases.
These cats were chimeras - 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 another 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 Is the Difference Between Calico and Tortoiseshell?
I get asked this a lot and it's real 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 hairs 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 calicoes 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 origonal 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 their colored spots.
- Dilute Calico Tabby - A gray and tan calico with stripes over their colored patches.
- Tortie Point - A Tortie Point is 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 a variety of animals from rabbits to chickens, and so on. However they are distinct from calico cats in the sense that calico coloration in these animals are 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. There is, however, one other sex-linked calico that works like cats - that is the yellow sex-linked gene found in Syrian hamsters.
Just like cats, any animal showing this coloration will be either female or 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 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 has been almost 100% negative but we might just be unlucky! (I mean most cats don't respond well to having an abscess drained - perhaps it's not so much color as 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.
More by this Author
No one likes to cage their cats but sometimes it is for their benefit or safety and we have to do it as good and loving cat owners. Learn in this article how you can use cages as a humane tool for better cat ownership.
Ever wonder why there are so many striped cats in the world? This article will teach you the basics of tabby genetics, the correct terms, and how they arise.
Bengal cats are beautiful and intelligent but what is it really like to keep them? All I can say is its a wild ride! Here is my personal story.