Calico cats have a tricolor coat with patches of white, orange or cream, and black. On Tortoiseshell cats display a blend of black and orange or cream colors without any white patches.

TL;DR Calico cats Vs. Tortoiseshell cats

Calico cats have three colors (white, black, and orange) in distinct large patches, are almost always female, and may have a split-face pattern.

Tortoiseshell cats have two colors (black and orange) blended in smaller patches, are mostly female, and are known for their feisty personalities.

To spot the difference, look for the amount of white, the distinctness of colors, and consult an expert if unsure.

Calico cats

picture of a calico cat

Calico cats are predominantly female due to an interesting genetic phenomenon. The gene responsible for coat color is carried on the X chromosome. Female cats have two X chromosomes (XX), while males have one X and one Y chromosome (XY).

The calico pattern requires two X chromosomes carrying different color genes, resulting in the mosaic-like mix of hues that we adore.

Each calico cat is as unique as a fingerprint. They come in various coat patterns such as patched tabby or brindle, with no two ever looking exactly alike.

Some even sport striking asymmetry – half black and half orange – known as split-face or chimera calicos.

Tortoiseshell cats

picture of a tortoiseshell Cat

Tortoiseshell cats, are also known as torties. These cats have a combination of black, orange, and sometimes white patches in their fur, creating a mosaic-like appearance.

Tortoiseshell cats are almost exclusively female. This is because the gene responsible for the distinctive coat pattern is linked to the X chromosome. Male tortoiseshells do exist but are extremely rare and typically sterile.

Torties also tend to have strong personalities. They are often described as feisty, independent, and fiercely loyal to their owners. Each cat has its own distinct temperament and quirks, but many torties are known for being sassy and assertive.

Calico cats Vs. Tortoiseshell cats – Key differences

CharacteristicCalico CatsTortoiseshell Cats
Fur ColorThree colors - white, black, and orange (or variations of these colors)Two colors - black and orange (or variations)
PatternLarge patches of solid colors (white, black, and orange)Intermingled patches of black and orange
White ColorPredominantly white with patches of black and orangeMay have little or no white on their fur
Gender AssociationPredominantly female (99.9% are female)Can be either male or female
GeneticsTypically have two X chromosomes (XX) and may carry the O geneTypically have two X chromosomes (XX)
Personality TraitsVaried personalities, can be independent and sassyVaried personalities, can be affectionate and fiery
Rare Male CalicosExtremely rare, almost always sterile due to genetic factorsExtremely rare, almost always sterile due to genetic factors
Name VariationsAlso known as tri-color cats or piebald catsAlso known as "torties" or "calimanco cats"

How To Spot The Difference Between Calico and tortoiseshell Cats?

Distinguishing between Calico and Tortoiseshell cats can be a bit challenging, especially if they have similar color patterns. However, here are some key tips to help you spot the differences:

Calico Cats

  • Three Colors: Calico cats have a coat consisting of three colors – white, black, and orange (or variations of these colors like cream and gray). The colors are usually in distinct large patches on their fur.
  • White Predominance: Calico cats are mostly white, with patches of black and orange scattered throughout their coat.
  • Larger Patches: The three colors on a Calico’s fur tend to be more prominent and form larger areas of solid color.
  • Almost Always Female: Calico cats are almost always female due to the genetic basis of their coat color. The vast majority (99.9%) of Calico cats are female.

Tortoiseshell Cats

  • Two Colors: Tortoiseshell cats have a coat consisting of two colors – black and orange (or variations like cream and gray). These colors are intermingled, creating a brindled or “tortie” pattern.
  • Little to No White: Unlike Calico cats, Tortoiseshell cats usually have little or no white on their fur. Their coat is primarily a mix of black and orange.
  • Smaller Patches: The colors on a Tortoiseshell’s fur are more finely blended, resulting in smaller patches of each color.
  • Can Be Male or Female: While most Tortoiseshell cats are female, it is possible (though extremely rare) to find male Tortoiseshell cats. This occurs due to genetic anomalies.

Tips for Identifying

  1. Look for the presence of white in the coat. Calico cats will have more extensive white patches, while Tortoiseshell cats will have less or no white.
  2. Check for the distinctness of the colors. Calico cats will have clear and separate patches of each color, while Tortoiseshell cats will have a more blended and brindled appearance.
  3. Observe the size of the color patches. Calico cats typically have larger patches, while Tortoiseshell cats have smaller, intricate patches.
  4. Remember the gender association. If you happen to know the cat’s gender, it can give you a strong hint. Calico cats are almost always female, while Tortoiseshell cats can be male or female (though male Tortoiseshells are extremely rare).
  5. Consult a veterinarian or cat breed expert if you are unsure. They may be able to help you determine the cat’s coat color accurately.

Keep in mind that coat colors can vary among individual cats, and some cats may have blended characteristics of both Calico and Tortoiseshell patterns, making it challenging to classify them strictly into one category.


Image Credits

Featured Image ByGisela Merkuur from Pixabay

Image 1 Bymarkrgi from Pixabay

Image 2 By –  J_Blueberry from Pixabay


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