Tale of the Calico

August 13, 2013 | By Pet360 | 1 comment

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Their coats are among the most distinctive in the feline world: patterned in bright oceans of white broken by continents of black and orange. The white looks dazzlingly snowy by contrast, the black more intense, the orange more vivid. Sometimes the triple color combo is more muted: instead of black, there’s rich brown, or blue-gray fur, adorned with peachy patches that enhance touches of cream. These are the coats of the calico cat, whether sharp and bright, or pastel and subtle.

The Color Combo of the Calico

The calico is not a breed, but a color combo, spotted in domestic shorthair cats, Persians and even the tailless Manx. Their tri-color coverings delight feline fanciers, and even movie makers. Remember the funny scene in “Wag the Dog,” as presidential aide Anne Heche struggles to describe director Dustin Hoffman’s casting call for a “calico kitten, calico, sir, yes it’s...” Unfortunately for the aspiring calico stars, they were replaced by a computer generated white cat!

The unique coating of the calico—and her cousin, the tortoiseshell, whose similar coloring has a swirled or blended look, but always combines some version of black, cream and a variation of orange, from bright red to pale ginger—is something we could have learned about in high school science, if teachers had wanted to engage our attention with a fascinating fact.

The Chromosome Effect

For cats, color is tied to gender. There’s a genetic code that enables female cats to display two colors—such as black and orange—as well as white. Female cats have two X chromosomes, which creates two colors in addition to the white fur that is ‘coded’ in a separate gene. But male cats have just a single X chromosome along with a Y one—so they can display either black or orange or any other one color, only one, as well as the white. Male cats’ colorations are a bit more complicated than the simple black or orange choice—there are dominant colors that may show up, as they do in horses and dogs-- but basically, this is why calicos and tortoiseshell cats are overwhelmingly females. They have just too many colors to be boys.

You may have heard about that male tortoiseshell kitten born last year in Georgia, and there is the occasional male calico who makes headlines. Yes, it can happen, when a male cat is born with two X chromosomes plus a Y. Extremely rare but not unheard of, in these instances, the uniquely marked cat is sterile, thus unable to breed (and luckily, not a temptation for potential kidnappers who dream of making a fortune by breeding Calico Tom!).

For calicos and tortoiseshells, their singular coats—no two are ever marked identically!—bring the pleasure of beauty to their humans, which makes them priceless.

Calico trivia: in 2001, the state of Maryland named the calico as the official state cat. Its proud colors are shared by both the Baltimore Orioles, Maryland’s state bird, and its state bug, the Checkerspot butterfly.

This article was originally published on partner site Pet360.com

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daryl b.
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daryl b.
11 months ago

i think the calicos are real beautys but my fav has always been a black cat. i always make sure someone gives it to me so it is good luck

Good Point | Reply ›

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