Popular for their unique tri-color coat, calico cats have a reputation for being beautiful, feisty, and even lucky pets.
But have you ever wondered whether they're born with their signature three colors or if they're born white?
After all, colorpoint cats, like the Siamese, have white kittens. The colorpoint pattern develops later on in the kitten's life.
Keep reading as we explore more on how calicos get their color, how to differentiate them from other cat colors, why the male calico is so rare, and other interesting facts about them.
How do calico cats get their color?
To understand how calico cats get their color, we need to go back to the basics of biology. If you don't want to get into the technical nitty-gritty, you may want to skip to the next section!
Here's a cute picture of calico kittens before you go there -
Like humans, most cats inherit one sex chromosome from each of their parents.
A female parent contributes the egg, which carries one X chromosome, while the male parent contributes sperm which carries either an X or a Y chromosome.
The combination of either XX (female) or XY (male) determines the sex of the kitten.
Now the gene that determines fur color is found in the X chromosome. In order for a calico mix to occur, there has to be one X chromosome that carries the gene for black fur and another X chromosome that carries the gene for orange fur.
This is why calico cats are typically female.
However, male calicos do exist due to a genetic anomaly called XXY syndrome.
Cats who have this syndrome have two X chromosomes from the female parent and one Y chromosome from the male parent.
So, are calico kittens born with all three colors on their coat?
Yup! Calico kittens are born with their three colors intact and showing.
Unlike color-pointed cats, which develop their darker fur patterns as they grow, calico kittens are born with their distinct tricolor fur.
Calico cats have a unique combination of three colors: white, black (or blue/gray), and orange (or cream). These colors are not dependent on age or temperature, so they show up as the fetus develops in the womb.
What decides the exact calico pattern?
Another interesting fact about calico cats' colors is that there are rarely two calicos with the same markings.
Hold on, we're about to get just a little bit technical again. So here's a bonus kitten pic -
The reason no two calicos are identical is because of a complex process called lyonization where one X chromosome in every cell of the female embryo becomes inactivated.
So for instance, if the X chromosome carrying the gene for black fur is inactivated, the other X chromosome carrying the gene for orange fur becomes the active chromosome, creating a patch of orange fur.
Lyonization is completely random, which is why it results in completely different markings for each calico.
Wondering if calicos change color as they get older? Take a look at this article to find out: "Do Calico Cats Change Color As They Age?"
Is calico a breed?
Calico does not refer to a specific feline breed, but rather to a specific color pattern that occurs in several cat breeds. This color pattern is made up of three colors: white, black, and orange.
There are also dilute or muted calicos that have lighter variations of these colors. They have white or cream fur with blue or gray and tan or light orange patches.
Many breeds of cats can have calico coloration, such as:
- Japanese Bobtail
- Maine Coon
- American Shorthair
- British Shorthair
- Persian Cat
- Norwegian Forest Cat
- Turkish Angora
- Turkish Van
Are calico cats rare?
Calico cats are not considered rare. Female calicos are quite common.
Male calicos, on the other hand, are an extreme rarity. Nobody knows the exact numbers, but it's estimated that 1 in a few hundred calico cats is a male.
Because of their uniqueness, calicos (male calicos in particular) represent good fortune in many cultures across the world! For instance, they're often called money cats in the United States.
In Japan, a Maneki Neko or a calico cat figurine is a famous symbol found in shops and restaurants that is thought to bring wealth and good luck to a business.
How can I tell if my cat is calico?
Calicos often get confused with tortoiseshell cats, more commonly known as "torties." However, an easy way to distinguish them is by checking whether they have white fur.
Torties have only two colors, which are black and orange. Calicos have patches of black and orange on a white coat. They may be 25% to 75% white with different sizes of orange and black spots.
Learn more about the difference between tortoiseshell cats and calicos by reading this article: "Calico Cat Vs. Tortoiseshell – What’s The Difference."
Can you breed two calicos?
Unfortunately, you can't breed two calicos to have calico kittens. First off, you would have an extremely difficult time finding a male calico cat as they are extraordinarily rare.
Secondly, even if you do manage to find a male calico, he won't be able to reproduce. Due to their chromosomal abnormality wherein they have an XXY combination instead of an XY combination, male calicos have malformed sexual organs. This means they're generally sterile.
It's estimated that only 1 in 10,000 male calicos are fertile. In the very rare event that a male calico isn't completely sterile, he still usually has a low sperm count and a number of health issues and birth defects. This is why breeders typically reject fertile male calicos.
Can calico female cats have kittens?
Yes! While male calicos are sterile, female calicos are more than capable of getting pregnant and giving birth as long as they are healthy.
Keep in mind that veterinarians and cat care experts recommend spaying your female cat by the age of five months.
In fact, cats can be neutered safely at four months of age and even earlier. It's best to spay your calico kitty before she goes into heat for the first time.
Calico cats are unique, beautiful felines with a tri-color coat that they're usually born with. They can be found in many breeds and are highly valued in many cultures.
If you love calicos, head out to your local shelter! Calico kittens, as well as older cats, need good homes!