Contrary to what some believe, the calico cat is not a cat breed. It is actually a distinguishable coat of a domestic cat who happens to sport a specific colour pattern - and an interesting set of genes!

What is a calico cat?

Calico is not actually a breed of cat. The term 'calico' refers to the cat's fur coat (their coat colour and fur pattern). It is commonly a tri-colour mix of orange, white, and black but these basic colours can also vary, such as cream, reddish brown, blue-black or grey.

It is impossible to know the origins of these beautiful felines. This is mainly because they do not belong to a particular breed. Therefore, a calico cat can be a purebred or non-purebred. A study showed that the proportion of cats having the orange mutant gene found in calicos was traced to port cities along the Mediterranian, including France, Greece, and Italy.

Of course,  all calico cats have different markings; just like fingerprints are unique, no two cats are exactly the same. This means breeders are unable to predict what a calico kitten's fur will look like. Even the mother's fur colour doesn't let us predict what her kittens will look like. For example, a calico kitten can be found amongst a litter of grey kittens or a litter of different colours. Their eyes, however, can be orange, green or yellow.

There are actually different types of calico cats including 'dilute' and 'tortoiseshell'. In fact, many people often confuse calico cats with tortoiseshell cats. But they do have differences in colour. Calico cats have tortoiseshell coat colours except that they have big white patches. Tortie's colours are more swirled together and predominately black and orange with hardly any white. Dilute calicos’ coat markings are just the same as normal calicos, but the colour is less intense, hence the name ‘dilute’.

chat calico

Calicos are usually female

As mentioned, it is impossible to purposely breed a calico cat. This coloring only happens by accident due to genetics.

The genetics of calico cats are fascinating and have been studied since the 1940s. The black and orange patches that characterize these cats are a result of a genetic phenomenon called “dosage compensation”.

The coat colour is a sex-linked trait. Females have two X chromosomes, and males only have one. Coat colour occurs because of dominant and recessive genes that interact with X chromosomes. The genetic code for having either orange or black fur is only found in the X chromosome, and seeing as the males only have one, they have the chance of having the black or orange gene, but not both.

Male calico cats are therefore pretty rare and tend to live shorter lives than females because of this unique ‘chromosomal makeup’. But of course, they can live longer than average if you provide your cat with good health care, shelter and food (a nutritious diet that is!).

On average, the life span of a calico cat is 12-16 years.

calico cat

A Calico’s personality

There have been reports of these beautiful cats being quite dramatic and filled with personality. However, as said above, each calico cat is different from the other, and all can have different behaviours. It is important to remember that calico is not a breed, but just the colour of their fur.

Saying that, it has been rumoured that a number of calicos tend to be quite independent and temperamental in nature. However, personality traits are quite common in all cats! Overall, calico parents say that they can be strong-willed, endearing, sweet and affectionate, and enjoy lots of cuddles and falling asleep on your lap.

Remember that a cat's behaviour and personality depends on their environment, and above all, the behaviour of their owner. Cats are sensitive creatures with amazing senses and can change their behaviour depending on positive or negative energy. If you are calm and positive, then your calico should act in the same way.

Calico cat facts

    • Last year, the University of California-Davis published a study explaining why some kinds of cats are more aggressive than others. The study was based on a questionnaire, sent to 1200 cat owners of different breeds. The owners had to score their cat from 1-5 (1 being the calmest and 5 being the most aggressive). The results showed that the cats with 'female fur' such as calicos were more aggressive, meaning that calico cats seem to scratch more than others. However, these results are not definitive.

    • Male calico cats are actually sterile as they have Klinefelter's syndrome (a syndrome affecting males in which the cells have an extra X chromosome). This can also mean that they are likely to have health issues, which is why most male calicos don’t tend to live as long as the females.

    • Given the rarety, calico cats are thought to bring good luck. Many years ago, Japenese fishermen would keep calico cats on their ships to protect them from harsh storms and the ghosts of their ancestors. In the 1870’s, calico cats were declared an official symbol of fortune.

    • Have you ever seen the popular Japenese statue “Maneki Neko”? It is a statue of a cat with a raised paw and is often animated as a calico cat! These statues are on display in many Japenese or Chinese restaurants or gift shops. The Maneki Neko is a Japenese calico bobtail.

  • The calico became the official cat of Maryland, USA in October, 2001. The calico's orange, black and white colours are shared with the state bird (Baltimore Oriole) and the state insect (Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly).

 Have you ever had a calico cat?

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    Lori L I am a beautiful, very affectionate, little 1 1/2 year-old calico cat, & I am much-loved by all 4 of my owners & I love them very much, too, but, alas 'sigh', I am just an ordinary female Calico cat, and even though I am very loved (& very spoiled!) 🌝 by my 'owners" (they THINK they own me - I really own them, but let them live in their own dream world for now - they'll learn & the real world soon enough ! 🙃 But, I am still "just a female, and therefore, just ordinary. I'd like to write that I'd like to be a boy calico cat, just to be more special and, therefore, less ordinary but, I don't really like boys. Alas, I am just a sweet innocent, little, calico kitten, (who still runs ny house - AND my owners, no matter what; they like to think! 🙃