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Fun Facts and Trivia About Tortoiseshell Cats

Picture of a Tortoiseshell Cat

Many cat lovers prefer tortoiseshell patterned cats. Also known as torties, this relatively rare pattern of cat is a beautiful, interesting example of the patched variety of tabby cat. It is not a separate breed all of its own, but rather, a tabby cat pattern that can show up in a variety of breeds. Here, we will discuss what makes tortoiseshell cats so distinctive.

Tortoiseshell Cat Patterns

Tortoiseshell cats got their name because the pattern and coloring of their coats resembles a tortoise shell. Combinations of black, red, brown and grey can be found in the patterns on tortoiseshell cats’ coats. Some may even display a bit of orange or gold. Other colors that have been found on tortoiseshell cats’ coats include ginger, cream, blue, and lilac.

There are two main styles of tortoiseshell cat coat patterns – mosaic and chimera. A mosaic tortoiseshell cat’s coat will show the traditional colors mixed in a random pattern. A chimera tortoiseshell cat’s coat will be one color on one side of its body and another color on the other side of its body. The chimera effect can occur on the cat’s entire body or on just its face.

The intricacies of the colors in a tortoiseshell cat’s coat can be patched (looking as if there are large patches of color all over the cat’s body) or bridled (appearing as if the colors are woven together).

If a tortoiseshell cat displays three colors (two colors along with white), many people in Canada and the United States call them “calico” cats. Elsewhere, however, these cats are referred to as “piebald.” In the United Kingdom, they may simply be called “tortoiseshell-and-white” cats.

Tortoiseshell cats that are crossed with tabby stripes possess a unique pattern all their own, referred to as “torbies.” They are also called striped torbies and tortoiseshell tabbies.

A calico cat crossed with a tabby cat is often referred to as a “caliby.”

You might have heard cat owners referring to their kitties as “dilute tortoiseshells.” This is just another name for a tortoiseshell cat with muted colors. Another common name for muted tortoiseshells is “brindle.”

Is it True that Most Tortoiseshell Cats are Female?

The short answer to this question is, yes, most tortoiseshell cats are female. The longer explanation is that the chromosome responsible for tortoiseshell coloring (orange and black codes) is linked to the chromosome responsible for a cat being female (x). For this reason, there is a slight chance of a tortie being a male (xy), but the greater number or torties are females (xx). Only about one in every 3000 tortoiseshell cats are male. In fact, many male torties are sterile and ill during their lives. If you have a male Calico, he will most likely have Klinefelter Syndrome, an xxy chromosome pairing. These cats will also have health problems and may have shorter lives.

Persian Tortoiseshell Cat

Breeds That Have Tortoiseshell Cats

As mentioned above, tortoiseshell is not a breed of cat. The tortoiseshell pattern can be found among a variety of cat breeds and within mixed breed cats. It can be found on short- and long-haired cats. Some of the breeds that have displayed tortoiseshell markings include (but are not limited to):

  • British shorthair
  • Abyssinian
  • American shorthair
  • Oriental shorthair
  • Birman
  • Persian
  • Burmese
  • Himalayan
  • Maine Coon
  • Cornish Rex
  • Ragamuffin
  • Turkish van
  • Japanese bobtail

Characteristics of Tortoiseshell Cats

Some have called tortoiseshell cats the “divas” among all cats. According to cat behavior expert Jackson Galaxy, tortoiseshell cats are more sensitive to outside stimuli. This may give them what has been described as a feisty “tortitude” (or tortoiseshell attitude). Of course, not all torties will display tortitude, but tortoiseshell cat owners claim that most seem to do so. Some of the characteristics commonly found in tortoiseshell cats with tortitude include:

  • Confidence
  • Talkative
  • Showing no fear
  • Feistiness
  • Demanding
  • Affectionate
  • Strong willed
  • Independent
  • Sneaky
  • Aggressive
  • Sassiness
  • Energetic

Researchers at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, however, have studied the behavior of tortoiseshells and other cats extensively. They have found no significant differences in the levels of aggressiveness based upon coat color or pattern. Those who own or work with torties every day might beg to differ with them!

Tips for Tortoiseshell Cat Owners

Because of their boundless energy, it is highly recommended that tortoiseshell cat owners keep their kitties busy with toys and daily playtime. Make sure that they have enough room to run around. Brushing is also important, especially if you have a long-haired tortoiseshell cat. If you are trying to “train” a tortoiseshell cat, good luck! Remember, all cats respond best to positive reinforcement, so rewarding good behavior with a treat, love and praise will help to make your tortie’s behavior more desirable.

Tortoiseshell Cats Throughout History

Tortoiseshell cats have been prominent throughout history. Some of the most famous are:

  • President Ronald Reagan had two torties, named Sara and Cleo.
  • Actress Lea Michele owns one tortie, named Sheila.
  • Edgar Allen Poe had a tortoiseshell cat named Cattarina who died just after his death.
  • In Japan, a white tortoiseshell cat named Tama worked as the station master for the Kishi Station. His job was greeting passengers, and he was paid in cat food.
  • One of the oldest tortoiseshell cats on record was an Australian named Marzipan, who lived to be 21 years old.
  • Old English folklore said that one could be cured of warts by rubbing the tail of a male tortoiseshell cat during May.
  • Japanese fishermen believed that male tortoiseshell cats protected their ships from ghosts.
  • Ancient Celtic people thought they would possess good luck if a male tortoiseshell cat stayed in their homes.
  • According to the legend of the Khmer people of Southeast Asia, the first tortoiseshell cat came from the menstrual blood of a goddess who was born from a lotus flower.
  • In Turkish myth, the tortoiseshell cat was created by a wizard who used fire, smoke and bright stars.
  • The painting “The Courtship of Washington” by Jean-Leon Gerome Ferris shows a calico cat washing her paws under a table.

Picture of a Tortoiseshell Cat outside

Other Fun Facts About Tortoiseshell Cats

  • Tortoiseshell cats are relatively rare, and therefore desired by many.
  • Tortoiseshell cats are popular in Asia today and are seen as a status symbol.
  • The Maneki Neko figure, modeled after a Japanese Bobtail calico cat with a raised paw, is a good luck symbol in Japan. He typically wears a bib and holds a gold coin, symbolizing wealth. Chinese culture has also adopted this good luck figure.
  • Many people in the United States believe that tortoiseshell cats will attract money and wealth to their owners.
  • Scottish and Irish people see the tortoiseshell cat as a harbinger of good luck.
  • Some say that torties have psychic abilities.
  • If you dream about a tortoiseshell cat, some say, you will soon fall in love.
  • The average tortoiseshell cat weight varies, depending on its breed.
  • The calico version of the tortoiseshell cat was named the official cat of the state of Maryland in 2001. The colors in its coat (orange, white and black) are also found in the state bird (the Baltimore oriole) and the state insect (Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly).
  • It is believed that mixed-breed tortoiseshell cats will live longer than purebred tortoiseshell cats (who usually live for up to 14 years).
  • Tortoiseshell cats can’t be intentionally bred. The tortoiseshell pattern emerges at random. Even a calico female and tortoiseshell male (which is rare, and usually sterile to begin with) won’t necessarily have a tortoiseshell or calico kitten.
  • In Dutch, the tortoiseshell cat is called lapjeskat, meaning “patches cat.”
  • In Japanese, the tortoiseshell cat is called tobi mi-ke, meaning “triple fur.”

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