Are All Calico Cats Female?
By Dr. Carly I. O'Malley June 30, 2019
If you are a cat lover, you are probably well aware that there are many different types of coat colors and patterns out there for you to choose from. Many cat lovers have their own preferences for cat breeds or coat colors. One reason for this may be the reputation that some cats have based on their color patterns (Delgado et al., 2012). One coat pattern that definitely has a reputation for their behavior is the calico. Calico cats are unique in a lot of ways. In this article, we will answer some of the most common questions about calico cats to help you understand more about these colorful kitties.
Are All Calico Cats Female?
No, not all calico cats are female. It is true that calico cats are almost always female, but in rare instances calico cats will be male. The calico coloration is produced with two X chromosomes, which is why most calico cats are female. The few instances where there are male calico cats are due to the presence of three sex chromosomes (Stelow et al., 2016).
Before we learn more about the genetics behind what makes a calico, let’s learn a little bit more about what calico cats are.
What Is The Definition Of A Calico Cat?
Calico is a type of coat pattern seen in domestic cats. Calicos have a distinct coat pattern typically made up of white, black, and orange. Some calicos are known as dilute calicos, which may have grey and cream-colored patches instead of black and orange. But, all calicos will have distinct patches of orange, black, and white patches of fur (Stelow et al., 2016).
There are some other terms that may be used to refer to calicos, or calico-type cats.
- Calibby is also a variety of the calico cat pattern and is a mix of a calico and tabby cat. These cats will have the traditional tabby stripes, often within their orange and black color patches.
- Tortoiseshell (tortie, for short) is a similar coat pattern that is often confused with calicos. Calicos often have a white-based coat, whereas tortoiseshells have a black-based coat with more of a blend of the colors together rather than the distinct color patches seen in calicos. Tortoiseshell cats can also come in a dilute variety.
- Torbie is another term used in reference to cats with black and orange patches. It is similar to a calibby and therefore is a mix of a tabby and tortoiseshell cat. These cats may have tabby stripes in addition to their black and orange color patches.
Are Calico Cats Breed Specific?
No, calico coat patterns are not specific to any one cat breed. The term calico simply refers to the coat pattern. Also, the term calico is actually an American term that was adopted from a type of printed fabric. Other parts of the world have other terms for calico cats. In some parts of the world, calico cats are referred to as tricolor (Delgado et al., 2012) or piebald (Wilhelmy et al., 2016).
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Being A Calico Cat?
One of the advantages of being a calico cat is having a gorgeous, unique coat pattern. Calico cats can have striking markings that make them extremely beautiful. It is often their striking coat pattern that draws cat lovers to them, especially in a shelter environment. There are many cat lovers out there that show a strong preference towards calico cats. They will seek them out for adoption, regardless of their reputation for having an attitude, which will be discussed further.
One of the disadvantages of being a calico cat is their reputation for having a bad attitude. Among cat professionals and cat parents, calico cats have a reputation for having a distinct attitude, with some people calling them sassy, crazy, or unpredictable (Becker, 2012; Stelow et al., 2016). In multiple studies, calico and tortoiseshell cats have been shown to display more human-directed aggression than other coat colors, with female cats in general also being more likely to be aggressive towards humans than males. Being prone to displaying more aggressive behavior towards humans is not unique to calico cats, however, as the study also found that black and white males also show more human-directed aggression than male cats of other coat colors (Stelow et al., 2016). In contrast to these results, in another study calico cats were said to be less likely to show stranger-directed aggression. Additionally in this study, it was shown that most behavior issues were more related to underlying breed than to coat color alone (Wilhelmy et al., 2016).
While there is some evidence to suggest that the calico reputation is scientifically-based, some studies have found no connection between coat color and personality traits. So some of the calico cats’ reputation may still be anecdotal (Dantas-Divers et al., 2011;Delgado et al., 2012; Stelow et al., 2016). A study by Delgado and colleagues (2012) assessed human perception of cat personality traits based on their coat pattern. Most of the human participants used the words “intolerance” and “aloofness” to describe calico cats and the word “friendliness” was not often attributed to them (Delgado et al., 2012).
With any cat you bring home, there may be positive and negative aspects. Calico cats tend to get an especially bad reputation, but this does not necessary lead them to be abandoned in shelters more often. Many cat parents adopt cats based on how that cat fits with their personality or lifestyle. There are plenty of people out there that love the calico personality and will actively seek these cats out.
How Are Calico Cats Produced?
Calico cats are produced by two X sex chromosomes and a random X inactivation. The X chromosomes carry the orange coat color allele and the black coat color allele. These are considered opposite alleles. Random X inactivation causes the calico and tortoiseshell colorations, but calicos will also express the white gene while tortoiseshells do not.
This means that most calico cats are female, as females are determined by the XX sex chromosomes (Stelow et al., 2016). Interestingly, about 80% of orange cats are male which means that to create a calico, chances are the tom cat will be orange and the queen may be black or some other color pattern. Alternatively, the tom could be black, and the queen could be orange. Male kittens typically inherit their coat color from the queen.
Why Are Calico Cats Usually Female?
Calico cats are usually female because mammalian females have the XX sex chromosomes, and the X chromosomes determine coat color in cats. Mammalian males have the XY sex chromosomes which is why it is extremely rare to have male calico cats. Rarely, a male cat will have three sex chromosomes, XXY, which causes a male cat to have the calico coat pattern. Males with XXY sex chromosomes are referred to as Klinefelter males (Becker, 2012). They are generally healthy but are sterile.
How Often Are Male Calico Cats Born?
For every 3,000 calico cats, 1 of them will be male (Becker, 2012). In a study by Stelow and colleagues (2016) about how coat color is related to behavioral traits, a total of 1,274 cats were included. Of these cats, there were 69 calicos included. Only one of these calico cats was male. The rest of the calico cats were female which illustrates the rarity of calico male cats. There are even some veterinarians that have never seen a male calico cat in their years of practicing.
Are Male Calico Cats Healthy?
Most male calico cats are sterile, meaning they cannot reproduce. 1 in 10,000 male calico cats may have the ability to produce healthy offspring. Other than their reproductive abilities, male calico cats are generally healthy and can live normal lives.
Calico cats are unique in a lot of ways and have many distinct traits, but the most endearing and recognizable trait that they have is their beautiful coats. Due to the genetic components that create the beautiful coat pattern, most calico cats are female. Very rarely, due to the addition of a third sex chromosome, calico cats will be males. Male calico cats are rarely able to produce fertile offspring. Lastly, many cat owners love their calicos and may never opt for another coat pattern because they have grown to love their sassy personalities. Calicos can definitely be a fun (and beautiful) addition to any household.
Becker, M. 2012. Is there a connection between markings and personality in cats? Retrieved June 22, 2019.
Dantas-Divers, L.M., Crowell-Davis, S.L., Alford, K., Genaro, G., D’Almeida, J.M., and R.L. Paixao. 2011. Agonistic behavior and environmental enrichment of cats communally housed in a shelter. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 239(6):796-802.
Delgado, M.M., Munera, J.D., and G.M. Reevy. 2012. Human perceptions of coat color as an indicator of domestic cat personality. Anthrozoös 25(4):427-440.
Stelow, E.A., Bain, M.J., and P.H. Kass. 2016. The relationship between coat color and aggressive behavior in the domestic cat. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 19(1):1-15.
Wilhelmy, J., Serpell, J., Brown, D., and C. Siracusa. 2016. Behavioral associations with breed, coat type, and eye color in single-breed cats. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 13:80-87.