Are these cats calico?

Are these cats calico?

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Calico cats are cats that have 3 fur colors and are always female or males two X chromosomes.

I've seen many cats that will have 2 fur colors (one of them is usually white) and another, third, color which is a darker shade of one of the other colors. As exampled in the pictures below (taken from the internet). Are those considered Calico cats?


I think you are misunderstanding "color" here. When applied to cats, it doesn't literally mean a color shade as used in color theory, but "coat color" which can in fact also be a "coat pattern".

The cats above are two-colored, not three-colored. One color is white. The other color is what is called "tabby" in English and is a pattern of dark spots arranged in regular stripes on a lighter background. These spots are not considered a third color in cats.

This is a calico cat. Her three coat colors are white, orange, and grey tabby. See how the orange and grey are irregularly interspersed, this is the pattern of paternal and maternal chromosome expression on her body. Again, the grey and black patches within the tabby part are regularly placed. They don't make two separate colors, grey and black, but a single coat coloring, grey tabby. There are also other color combinations in calico cats, for example white-orange-black, and they are more straightforward to recognize.

Tortoiseshell cats (which is the normal name for Calico style cats in Europe) arise due to a gene on the X chromosome. Some patches are ginger, and some tabby due to the deactivation of one X chromosome in each cell at an early stage of development. This produces a tortoiseshell-like pattern.

What you see in these tabby cats with the white colouring is due to temperature dependence, this gives the patterning on the feet/nose etc. Tortoiseshell cats looks quite different, where the different coloured patches of fur are random.

X-Linked Genetics in the Calico Cat

Calico is a coat color found in cats, which is caused by a SEX-LINKED, CODOMINANT allele.

Female cats can be black X B X B , orange X R X R , or calico X B X R
Male cats can be black X B Y or orange X R Y

1. A black male is crossed with an orange female

How many kittens are: orange males? ______ calico females? ______

2. An orange male is crossed with a calico female. Show the Punnett square and list the phenotypes and proportions.

3. A black male is crossed with a black female. Show the Punnett square and list the phenotypes and proportions.

4. A black male is crossed with a calico female. Show the Punnett square and list the phenotypes and proportions.

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Are these cats calico? - Biology

X Linked Genetics in the Calico Cat

Calico is a coat color found in cats, which is caused by a SEX-LINKED, CODOMINANT allele.
B = black, R = orange, and BR = calico.

The following genotypes are possible

Female cats can be black X B X B , orange X R X R , or calico X B X R
Male cats can be black X B Y or orange X R Y

Show each of the crosses below and include the phenotypic ratios of the offspring.

1. A black male crossed with an orange female

2. An orange male crossed with a calico female

3. A black male crossed with a black female

4. An orange male crossed with an orange female

5. A black male crossed with a calico female

**If you are a cat breeder, what type of parents should you choose to have the MOST

Genetics Problems
(sex-linked traits)

The alien couple pictured above displays characteristics that have been linked to the sex chromosomes of this particular species. Below is a chart listing some of these traits. Use the information in the chart to solve the genetics problems that follow.

extra arms present for 4 arms total

1. A male with yellow eyes mates with a red-eyed female. What is the chance that this couple will have a baby boy with red eyes?

2. A female, heterozygous for the body color trait, mates with a pink male. What is the chance that these aliens will give birth to a purple-skinned girl?

3. A small-nosed male falls in love and marries a large-nosed female. The couple becomes pregnant with their first child. What is the chance that the baby will be a girl and have a large nose like the mother?

4. Two aliens with mismatched feet are expecting a baby. What is the chance that this couple's child will have feet that match its body?

5. Mr. & Mrs. Yardaz are expecting their second child. Both parents have pointed ears but the couple's 2-year old son has round ears. What is the chance that their second born will have pointed ears like the parents?

6. Doug Doouge has four arms. Doug's pregnant wife only has two arms. Doug would really like a daughter that has four arms just like him. What is the chance that Doug's wife will give birth to a baby girl with four arms?

7. Wendy is a female alien whose feet and body color match. She always considered herself lucky because her father's feet did not match his body and she thought that looked strange. Wendy would like to have children someday but is extremely concerned about mismatching feet. She makes an appointment with a genetic counselor. Wendy tells the counselor that she will only mate with males whose feet match their body and asks if there is any possibility that any of her children would have mismatching feet. What does the geneticist tell Wendy?

A Calico Cat Wears a Coat of Many Colors

You might think of only those animals living in the wild as having distinctive coats or markings. Zebras, giraffes and tigers come to mind. But the domesticated calico cat not only wears a unique coat, this fascinating feline also has other intriguing features that make her worth knowing about. Here's a hint: Amazon.

No, not the e-commerce site, though your calico probably loves playing in the empty boxes lying around your apartment. Think more like Amazons, as in the tribe of ancient female warriors. What's that got to do with calico cats? Keep reading.

First, "calico" refers to the tricolor cat's fur. It's not a breed. Calico cats are almost always white with black and orange splotches, although they can sometimes sport other colors like brown or gray. Second, most interestingly (and here's where the Amazons come in), calicos are almost always female. It all comes down to basic genetics.

Calico Cats and Genetics

Let's do a quick biology review. Eggs have one X chromosome and are contributed by the female. Sperm is contributed by the male and contains either an X or a Y chromosome. When sperm joins with the egg, the combination of XX or XY creates the gender of the cat. The sex chromosomes are referred to as the XX (female) or XY chromosomes (male). Some attributes, like coat color, are passed down in the cat's sex chromosomes, says Dr. Bruce Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center at Cornell University in New York.

"Normal females are XX and normal males are XY," Kornreich says. "Because females have XX, they can receive coat input from the queens (females) and the toms (males). In other words, if one of the X chromosomes (in a female cat) carries a black gene and the other one is an orange gene, in that case you'll have this (calico) mix. But because males only get one X chromosome, it's not common for them to have this mix. They only get the coat color from the queen alone, from one parent."

Think of it this way: In order for calico to occur, one of a cat's X chromosomes has to carry a black gene and the other might carry an orange gene. If both the female chromosomes are black, then she'll be black. If they're both orange, she'll be orange. If the chromosomes are mixed, black and orange, she'll be calico.

The patches in calicos occur during the early stages of development in a complicated process called "X chromosome inactivation," which happens when genes for black fur and genes for orange fur are randomly distributed all over the fertilized egg. A black patch of fur is created when the X chromosome carrying the gene for orange fur is inactivated. Conversely, an orange patch of fur is created when the X chromosome carrying the gene for black fur is inactivated. Because of this unusual genetic component, no two calico cats are alike. The markings will never be exactly the same, even in twins.

Male Calico Cats Are Rare

Something else highly unlikely in calico cats? Males. The chances are only one in 3,000, Kornreich says. So, what accounts for that random one out of 3,000? Occasionally a male cat will inherit an additional sex chromosome and becomes XXY.

"There's actually something similar in humans called Klinefelter syndrome," Kornreich says. "But in the case of the cat, it will have an extra chromosome and if both the Xs aren't the same coat color, they can become calico. It's very rare, as the one in 3,000 number suggests, but it does occur."

If being rare wasn't enough of a life hurdle, male calicos are also sterile. And even though they can't reproduce, experts still recommend they be neutered to deal with territorial spraying or other behavioral issues.

Are Calicos Cool Pets?

As for whether calicos make good house pets, cats in general have a reputation for being aloof or standoffish. Kornreich says there is good science to back up the notion that behavior can be genetically imparted, but that has to do with breeding and calico is all about coloring. Is there any connection between the color of a cat's coat and its behavior? A 2015 study by researchers at the University of California-Davis explored that very idea.

Dr. Liz Stelow, a behavioral expert at UC-Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, and her colleagues, professors Melissa Bain and Phillip Kass, used an internet-based survey to collect data from more than 1,200 "cat guardians." The survey asked these pet owners to rate the frequency of behaviors such as hissing and biting using a five-point scale.

"Guardians reported sex-linked orange female (tortoiseshells, calicos and "torbies") black-and-white, and gray-and-white cats to be more frequently aggressive toward humans in three settings: during everyday interactions, during handling, and during veterinary visits," read the report.

Does that mean calicos don't make good pets? Not necessarily, says Kornreich, describing the study as anecdotal. "It's based on an owner's perceptions," he says. "The notion of calico cats being more aggressive, picky or finicky has always been folklore."

Many people confuse the calico and the tortoiseshell cat because both have colorful coats. But they're easy to tell apart. Just remember that a calico cat always has three colors in its coat, and it must always include white. Tortoiseshell cats have just two shades, usually ginger red and black, though they can also have hints of cream, orange or gold mixed in.

Are All Calico Cats Female?

Calico cats have the same coloration as tortoiseshell ones, white orange and black blended together, but calicos have distinctly-marked patterns. According to Bell, research shows that fewer than 1 in 1,000 calico cats are male. This can be chalked up to the female’s extra X chromosome.

“For a cat to be a calico, it must have two X chromosomes, and typically only female cats have two X chromosomes, says Dr. Stephanie Karpf, a veterinarian at For Cats Only in West Palm Beach, Florida.

That extra X chromosome means a female can receive both a black and orange color gene, which gives rise to calico and tortoiseshell variations.

“Females with a black gene on one X chromosome and an orange gene on the other X chromosome will be calico or tortoiseshell colored,” says Bell.

So how can any male calicos exist at all? It’s mostly attributed to a mutation in the skin cells during formation of the embryo, says Bell.

“Historically, the orange hair gene occurred as a mutation in the black hair gene that caused it to produce orange coat color,” he says. “Occasionally we see spontaneous ‘back mutations’ in the developing embryo that convert the orange hair gene back to a black hair-producing gene.”

If the mutation occurs early in the embryo, then the male can inherit the calico coloring, he says. If it occurs later in the development of the embryo, there may only be an occasional patch of black hair in an otherwise-orange coat. He says this phenomenon occurs only in the skin cells, and is not passed to the male’s sperm, so they can still reproduce as orange.

Another rare occurrence causing male cats to have a calico color pattern is called chimerism, the fusion of two fertilized eggs in the womb.

“These would have become two different kittens if they remained separate, but because they have fused, they become one kitten with two separate sets of cells containing different sets of chromosomes,” Bell says. “If one of the fertilized eggs was for an orange cat, and one was for a black cat, you could find equal amounts of black and orange in a male cat.”

The least common reason male calico cats exist, he says, is due to an “abnormal” egg or sperm that produces a fertilized egg with an extra sex chromosome. So instead of having XY, this type of cat would have XXY. This type of cat would be outwardly male, but sterile.

“If one X chromosome carries the orange hair gene and one the black hair gene, then he will be a calico,” Bell says.

How Women's Brains Are Like Calico Cats

Well, in one respect, indeed they are. At least if we are talking about calico cats. In fact, there is an intriguing and mysterious connection between the unusual pattern of fur color of calico cats and something very unique about women's brains that distinguishes them from men's brains.

Surprisingly, there are some human females who also show a rather similar calico pattern that you can actually see on their skin. But it is not revealed as a patchwork of colors. No, you will never see a woman with the distinctive skin patchwork coloration of a calico cat walking down the street. However, for a very small number of women, if you were to look closely on a hot day, you would see a calico pattern appear on their skin. Not patchworks of colors, but two types of skin -- skin that either does or does not sweat. On a hot day you could literally see a calico type patchwork of wet and dry areas on the skin of these women. And, like the calico fur, this is only seen in one sex - women only. This is a rare female disorder called anhidrotic ectodermal dysplasia.

What might explain this calico pattern of fur colors seen only in female cats and the calico patches of skin (with or without sweat) seen on women with this condition? What is it about being female that might generate such calico patterns? In both cats and humans, the cause can be traced to a manifestation of the fundamental chromosomal difference between the sexes - females have two X chromosomes (XX) while males only have one (XY). Let's see how having two X chromosomes can lead to a calico patchwork.

Men get the one X chromosome that is in each of their cells from their mother (they always get a Y from their father, never an X). In contrast, women have two X's in each of their cells. Women get one X chromosome from their mother, and another X from their father. But there is a problem. Two active X chromosomes in one cell would lead to conflicting genetic instructions, so this is prohibited by women's biology. Since only one X chromosome can be active in each cell the second X must be "switched off." But which one? The X she got from her mother, or the X she got from her father?

In this respect, nature believes in equal representation of the sexes. A few weeks after conception, one of the two X chromosomes in each cell of a female's body is randomly deactivated. As each of these cells in the developing fetus multiplies, its descendant cells all have the same X chromosome activated. This leads to a patch of cells that all have the same active X chromosome (say, the X from the mother). A different fetal cell may have randomly deactivated the mother's X chromosome, and so all of its descendant cells each have the X chromosome from the father.

You can probably now see where this is leading. The fur color of calico cats is determined by alleles on the X chromosome. To simplify this discussion a bit, we'll ignore the white fur color for now, and just discuss the alleles that code for either the orange or black fur color on calico cats.

Say the X chromosome from the mother has an allele for orange fur, while the X chromosome from the father has an allele for black fur. In early fetal development, the random deactivation of one of the X chromosomes in each cell leads to two different cell lines, and we end up with a female calico cat with a patchwork of these fur colors. You can literally see the patches of cells that have an X from one parent, and a different set of cells that have an X from the other parent (although without genetic testing, we don't know which color came from which parent).

Not so for the male cats. Because the males got their X chromosome in each of their cells from their mother, all of their cells have the same allele for fur color, and they are basically entirely one color, never a patchwork of different colors.

Now, apply this calico pattern to all of the cells in the female body. Females, both in their bodies, and their brains, are a patchwork of two different types of cells - those that have an X chromosome they got from their mother and those with an X chromosome from their father. Females are thus "genetic mosaics." This is remarkable. There is nothing equivalent to it in males.

Now imagine that we could image the brain with some type of brain scanner so that all of the neurons with an X from the father show up as blue on the screen, and that all the neurons with an X from the mother show up as pink. What color(s) would men's brains be?

Men's brains would appear on the imaging screen as entirely one color -- all pink (all of their X chromosomes are from their mother -- remember, they never get an X from their father, only a Y).

What would women's brains look like on the imaging screen? Yes, their brains would appear as a patchwork of colors - with patches of pink and blue showing up throughout the brain. So in this situation, what would a woman's brain resemble? Yes, her brain would appear with a patchwork of colors similar to the fur of a calico cat!

What implications might this have for sex differences in brain function and behavior? Tune in, I'll explore that next time.

(Hint: On some traits, men are more variable than women -- i.e., there are more males than females at both the low and high tails of the distribution. Can you think of why this might be related to women's "calico brains?")

Bainbridge, D. (2004). The X in sex. MA: Harvard University Press.

Gunter, C. (2005). Genome biology: She moves in mysterious ways. Nature, 434, 279 - 280.

Migeon, B. (2007). Females are mosaics: X inactivation and sex differences in disease. NY: Oxford University Press

Basic Feline Genetics

The following statements are generally true – but there are exceptions. This information is not meant to be a complete manual on cat genetics. For more information, please refer to books on the subject.

When the term COLOR is used, it refers to color only (blue, cream, black, red, etc.). When PATTERN is used, it refers to pattern only (tabby, shaded, smoke, etc.). When both are affected, the statement will contain the term COLOR/PATTERN.

  1. Male kittens always obtain both color genes from the dam. The male offspring in a litter will always be either the color of the dam (or one of the colors in the case of parti-colors) or the dilute form of the dam’s color. See the statement on dilutes for more information (see #21 & #24).
  2. Female kittens take one color gene from each parent. The color of the female kittens in a litter will always be either a combination of the sire’s and dam’s colors, or the dilute form of those colors (see #21 & #24).
  3. To obtain any of the red or cream color/patterns in female kittens, the sire must be one of the red or cream color/patterns PLUS the dam must in some form demonstrate red or cream (see #21).
  4. Only the immediate parents determine the color/pattern of a kitten. The color/patterns found in the pedigree of a kitten will NOT always directly affect the color/pattern of the kitten. One notable exception is the colorpoint gene, which can carry through a number of generations (see #21 & #24).
  5. A kitten’s pattern can be inherited from either parent.
  6. A dominant characteristic (all dominant colors and patterns such as shaded, smoke, white, tabby, bi-color, etc.) cannot skip generations. The characteristic cannot be transmitted from one generation to the next without showing that characteristic in each generation.
  7. A cat displaying a dominant color (black, red, tortie, etc.) must have a parent which displays a dominant color (see #21).
  8. Two recessive color parents (cream, blue, etc.) cannot produce an offspring of a dominant color (black, red, etc.).
  9. Two colorpointed parents cannot produce a non-colorpointed offspring.
  10. To get a colorpointed kitten, both parents must be carrying the colorpointed gene (even if they do not appear colorpointed themselves).
  11. The mating of a colorpointed cat and a cat with no colorpointed background will produce NO colorpointed offspring.
  12. A (non-silver) tabby must have at least one parent that is either a shaded or a tabby. A silver tabby must have at least one silver tabby, shaded or smoke parent (see #13).
  13. All red cats will have some tabby markings. Whether or not a red can produce as a tabby will depend on whether it is a true tabby with a tabby or shaded parent or whether it is a red with ghost tabby markings and neither a tabby nor a shaded parent. A red tabby that is not a true tabby cannot produce a tabby offspring of any other color without being bred to a true tabby or a shaded.
  14. A cat with a white undercoat (smoke or shaded) must have a parent that has a white undercoat (see #21).
  15. A shaded cat must have at least one parent that is a shaded (see #21).
  16. A shaded parent can produce a smoke offspring, but a non-shaded (smoke) parent cannot produce a shaded offspring unless bred to a shaded (see #21).
  17. A bi-color must have a bi-color parent (see #21).
  18. Parti-color cats (blue-cream, tortie, calico) are almost always female, but males can and do occur occasionally (and are not always sterile).
  19. A white cat must have a white parent.
  20. A white cat breeds as both a white (which you see) and a masked color (which you don’t see) and can produce based on both white and the unseen color/pattern. The masked color/pattern must be determined, based on the white’s pedigree and the offspring produced in a controlled breeding, in order to effectively predict the color/pattern of the expected offspring. Interestingly, white kittens may have a small spot of color on top of their heads when born. This color should be noted as it is the color that the white is masking and the color that the cat will breed as when an adult. The spot of color may be visible for several months, but often disappears as the kitten matures.
  21. Genetics for solid white cats can affect the possible color/pattern of expected kittens in that the white parent may be masking the color/pattern needed to produce this result.
  22. Two longhair parents cannot produce a shorthair kitten.
  23. Two classic tabby parents cannot produce a mackerel, spotted, or ticked tabby kitten. A ticked tabby must have a ticked tabby parent. A mackerel or spotted tabby must have a mackerel, spotted, or ticked tabby parent (see #21).
  24. The dilute gene must be present in both the sire and dam’s pedigree in order to produce a dilute offspring.
  25. The chocolate or lilac gene must be present in both the sire and dam’s pedigree in order to produce chocolate or lilac offspring.

For further information on feline genetics, we recommend the following:

  • “Feline Genetics” in Feline Domesticus – Manual of Feline Health l982-l983, Cornell University, Judith Kinnear, PhD., Page 121.
  • “The Genes of Cats” in The Book of The Cat, Summit Books, New York, l980.

Suggested Advanced Reading:

  • Robinson’s Genetics For Cat Breeders & Veterinarians, Fourth Edition, Butterworth Heinemann, Boston, 1999.
  • “Feline Genetics” in A Standard Guide to Cat Breeds, McGraw Hill, New York, l979.

The information contained on this page is also available in a PDF format of our printed pamphlet.

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Phone: (330) 680-4070 / Fax: (330) 680-4633

So how come there are some male true Tricolors?

Sometimes, a male cat will get three sex chromosomes instead of two. This is a genetic anomaly. Genetics is all about pairs you should only be able to have two of any genes, two of any chromosomes, residing in any individual. Although in some cases there are more genes than two possible for a given trait (like all the possible eye or hair colors on people), only two traits can actually sit there. It's sort of like owning a Geo Metro convertible: you might have more than two who want a ride, but you can only fit two in it.

Well, sometimes, weird things happen in genetics, and you get an extra gene or chromosome in there.

Sometimes, these duplications can have negative effects. For example, Down syndrome in humans is caused by a duplication of Chromosome 23, where there are three chromosomes instead of two. Animals are only meant to have a certain number of chromosomes in this case, having a "spare" isn't good.

In cats (as well as other creatures, including humans), sometimes there is an extra sex chromosome. Some can be invisible and never detected.

A male cat who is a tricolor must have two X chromosomes to carry the Oo pattern. Thus, the cat must be at least an XXY. In humans, this pattern is known as Klinefelter's syndrome. One result of this syndrome is that the male has trouble with developing secondary sex characteristics and is usually sterile. However, unlike Klinefelter in human, an XXY male cat will usually not have any outward signs of its genetic makeup, unless it's a rare male tricolor.

Although a male tricolor almost certainly sterile, you will still want to neuter such a cat to reduce such undesirable traits such as spraying and aggression.


People who have mosaicism are often called chimeras but this is a mistake. A mosaic is originally from a single fertilised egg, whereas a chimaera comes from two fertilised eggs.

This is easiest to see with eye colours. When eye colours vary between the two eyes, or within one or both eyes, the condition is called heterochromia iridis (= 'different coloured iris'). It can have many different causes, both genetic and accidental. For example, David Bowie has the appearance of different eye colours due to an injury that caused one pupil to be permanently dilated.

On this page, only genetic mosaicism is discussed.

This is a controlled and natural developmental phenomenon in mammalian females. Females have two X chromosomes (and males have only one). The two X chromosomes in a female are rarely identical. They have the same genes, but at some loci (positions) they may have different alleles (versions of the same gene).

In the early embryo, each cell independently and randomly inactivates one copy of the X chromosome. [4] This inactivation lasts the lifetime of the cell, and all the descendants of the cell inactivate that same chromosome. X-inactivation is reversed in the female germline, so that all egg cells contain an active X chromosome.

This phenomenon shows in the colouration of calico cats and tortoiseshell cats. These females are heterozygous for the X-linked colour genes: the genes for their coat colours are carried on the X chromosome. X-inactivation causes groups of cells to carry either one or the other X-chromosome in an active state. [5]

X-inactivation is an epigenetic change, a switching off of genes on one chromosome. It is not a change in the genotype. [6] Descendent cells of the embryo carry the same X-inactivation as the original cells. This may give rise to mild symptoms in female 'carriers' of X-linked genetic disorders. [7]

Mutations in body cells (somatic mutations) cause groups of cells to differ in their genetics. [8] Somatic mutation leading to mosaicism is common in the beginning and end stages of human life. Cancer research has shown that somatic mutations are responsible for most leukemia, lymphomas, and solid tumors. [9]


The last category of abnormal gonadal development is the unclassified group. This is used as a catchall for those intersex animals that do not fit into the above categories. These are diverse and rare and take extensive testing to determine the exact chromosomal sex and developmental abnormalities that have occurred.

Abnormalities of genitals or chromosomal sex can lead to an abnormal appearance of your pet but does not lessen the pet’s ability to love and be a welcome addition to any family. The pet may look a little different on the outside but the mind, heart and soul are not affected.