Calico Cat: Types, Breeds, and Personality Traits
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Calico Cat: Types, Breeds, and Personality Traits

Est. read time: 8 min.

All kitties are bewitching, but no one can deny the unique beauty of calico cats. These felines are so well known that they even come with their own set of interesting facts. For instance, you may have wondered more than once: Are all calico cats female? Get the answer and more calico cat facts below!

Calico isn’t a breed – it’s a coloration pattern

long-haired calico cat sitting on a black couch arm
Photo by Malaya Sadler on Unsplash

Just like tabby cats, “calico” is often mistaken for a type of cat breed. Calico actually refers to the tri-colored fur pattern that some cats exhibit. In its most basic form, this tri-colored pattern refers to patches of white, black, and orange; however, variations with cream, reddish-brown, and grey-blue colors also occur. Both short-haired and long-haired cats can have the calico coloration pattern.

According to Spruce Pets, calico cats are named for their coat color that resembles calico cloth, which was once imported from England to India. The history of calico cats themselves is less clear: According to Sue Hubbel’s Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering Before We Knew About Genes, the proportion of cats having the orange mutant gene found in calicoes was traced to the port cities along the Mediterranean in Greece, France, Spain, and Italy, originating from Egypt.

Are all calico cats female? 99.9% are

Calico cat facts
Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash

Of all the calico cat facts on our list, this one sounds the most like a myth—but it isn’t! Almost all calico cats are female. This is because their tri-coloring is related to the X chromosome. Two X chromosomes are needed to create the tri-color coat, and an XX pair also results in the cat being female. If the cat gets one orange-coded X and one black-coded X, she will be calico—with the white patches resulting when she also inherits a gene unrelated to the X and Y chromosomes that codes for white fur. You probably never knew your calico’s beautiful coat was also so complicated!

In very rare cases—about 1 calico cat in every 3,000—cats can have an extra X chromosome, known as XXY Syndrome or Klinefelter’s Syndrome. These cats are male, but are always sterile and unfortunately tend to have a host of health problems due to their genetic abnormalities. According to the ASPCA, problems associated with Klinefelter’s Syndrome include cognitive and developmental issues that can lead to behavioral problems; reduced bone mineral content that increases the risk for broken bones; and increased body fat, which can lead to many obesity-related medical conditions.

In even rarer cases, a male calico can be a “feline chimera,” where two embryos merge in utero to form one animal. These males are fertile—which means that even if you have a male calico, he should still be neutered!

Calico and tortoiseshell are not the same thing

Some people use the terms calico and tortoiseshell (tortie) interchangeably, but they refer to two separate patterns. The primary difference between the two is the patches of white seen on a calico cat. A tortie, by contrast, is more likely to exhibit a melding of black and orange colors, with little to no white. (In fact, a calico is often called “tortoiseshell-and-white” outside of North America.)

What do you get when you cross a tabby and tortie cat, or a tabby and calico? A “torbie” and a “caliby,” respectively. The patched tabby typically features patches of brown and orange tabby patterns, with markings often more apparent on the legs and head.

Certain cat breeds are more likely to be calico

Japanese Bobtail calico cat
Japanese Bobtail © ようてい / CC-BY-3.0

We’ve already established that calico cats are not a breed—and therefore can’t be bred! Well, not only that: As stated earlier, the ultra-rare male calico cat is nearly always sterile.

However, certain cat breeds are more likely to present with the calico pattern. These breeds include the American Shorthair, British Shorthair, Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, Exotic Shorthair, Japanese Bobtail (more on that below!), Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest Cat, Persian, Scottish Fold, Turkish Angora, and Turkish Van.

Do calico cats have distinctive personalities?

Calico coloration does not result in a distinct personality. However, as we just learned the calico pattern can arise more often in certain cat breeds, breed type does influence personality. For instance, if you know that your calico cat is a British Shorthair or Persian, you probably have a fairly relaxed (even lazy!) kitty on your hands. If you have a Cornish Rex or Devon Rex, you’ll notice a more playful (dare we say mischievous?) calico. And if you have a mighty Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest Cat, or Turkish Angora/Van,  you can enjoy the friendly, active, but not overly cuddly personalities of these calico gentle giants.

They’re a famous figurine

Maneki Neko calico cat figurine
Traditional calico Maneki Neko © Searobin / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Another of our favorite calico cats facts is the existence of a highly famous calico that has survived centuries to become a ubiquitous cat figurine the world over. It is Maneki Neko, also known as “the lucky cat.” This figurine depicts a seated cat—traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail—with one upright paw, which is said to attract good luck, wealth, and prosperity. If you haven’t noticed it before, you’ll start to see this talisman everywhere—in shop windows, restaurants, and even homes.

Calico cats have been station masters … and mayors!

Tama the station master © Sanpei / CC-BY-3.0

Speaking of Japan, a calico named Tama gained fame as a station master at Kishi Station in Wakayama, Japan. In 2007, railway officials awarded her the title of station master, with a primary duty to greet passengers. In lieu of an annual salary, the railway provided Tama with a year’s worth of cat food, a gold name tag for her collar with her name and position, and a station master’s hat specially designed and made to fit her. A study estimated that the publicity surrounding Tama contributed 1.1 billion yen to the local economy. She passed away in 2015, but her legendary presence at Kishi Station lives on.

PHOTO: Kanda & Harold McKee

On the other side of the world, calicoes also have important duties: In the unincorporated community of Omena, Michigan (population 267), a calico cat named Sweet Tart was elected mayor in July 2018. Although the cat mayor position is ceremonial only, there’s still reason to be impressed: In Omena’s elections, it costs $1 to vote—and this election raised over $7,000 for the town’s historical society! 

Calico cats are good luck charms in many cultures

Calico cats serve as a good luck charm beyond Maneki Neko. For instance, they are sometimes called “money cats” in the United States due to the belief that they bring good fortune to their owners. (This is probably an offshoot of “the lucky cat.”) It’s also said that Japanese fishermen brought calico cats onto their ships to protect them from harsh storms (and ghosts!). And according to Irish folklore, you can cure warts by rubbing a calico cat’s tail on the affected area—but only during May. (We don’t recommend that one!)

The calico is the state cat of Maryland

Long-haired calico cat sitting outside in front of trees
Photo by Abdullah Öğük on Unsplash

Finally, the last of our calico cat facts concerns the state of Maryland, which made the calico cat its official state cat in 2001! The calico was chosen because it shares the same colors as Maryland’s state bird—the Baltimore oriole—and the state insect—the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly. (Now, if only the state cat wouldn’t hunt the state bird and state insect…)

What are the best calico cat names?

The obvious candidate for a calico cat name is “Callie”! However, there are so many fun options to choose from: Patches, Cleopatra, Snickers, Amaretto, Camo, Oriole, Motle, Picasso, and Spice are just a few.

Calico cats in movies

Here’s a list of our favorite calico cats from the silver screen! Most include quick cat cameos, but that doesn’t make their appearance any less exciting. This is not an exhaustive list, but should tide you over for a movie binge this winter:

  • Soul (2020)
  • Venom (2018)
  • Isle of Dogs (2018)
  • Second Act (2018)
  • The Shape of Water (2017)
  • Kedi (2016)
  • Regression (2015)
  • The Nine Lives of Christmas (2014)
  • The Good Heart (2009)
  • Corky Romano (2001)
  • While You Were Sleeping (1995)
  • Grumpy Old Men (1993)
  • L.A. Story (1991)
  • The Package (1989)
  • Like Father, Like Son (1987)
  • Saint Jack (1979)
  • Midnight Express (1978)
  • The Fury (1978)

Love spotting cats in movies? Check out our lists of holiday movies featuring cats, Oscar-winning movies with cats, cats in horror films, and the best movies with cats to watch right now.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading these calico cat facts as much as we enjoyed gathering them. And if you have a calico cat yourself, we hope she brings you all the good fortune in the world!

Are all calico cats female?

99.9% of calico cats are female. Two X chromosomes are needed to create the tri-color (calico) coat, and an XX pair also results in the cat being female.

Embrace a better life with cats with a self-cleaning litter box.

Cover photo by Erika on Unsplash

calico cat face - 7 calico cat facts