The tortoiseshell cat, aka the tortie cat, is the mottled beauty of the feline world. Let’s take a look at some of the fantastic facts and common questions about the multicolored tortie—for example, what is a tortoiseshell vs. calico cat? And is tortitude a real thing? Keep reading to find out!
Tortie isn’t a breed
Just like tabby and calico, “tortoiseshell” is not a breed of cat. Tortie cats are so named because their fur pattern has a similar look to the now-banned tortoiseshell material produced from the shells of larger species of tortoise and turtle. (Synthetic tortoiseshell is still popular.)
Despite not being a breed itself, the tortoiseshell pattern more commonly arises among certain cat breeds, including the following: American Shorthair, British Shorthair, Burmese, Cornish Rex, Japanese Bobtail, Maine Coon, Persian, Ragamuffin, Scottish Fold, and Siamese.
Tortoiseshell vs. calico
You may have heard the term tortoiseshell calico cat, which is actually a misnomer. While these fur patterns are similar, one distinct color defines the difference in tortoiseshell vs. calico cats: white. Calico cats typically exhibit tri-color fur of white, black, and red/orange, while tortoiseshell cats combine two colors other than white. Usually, tortie cat colors are described as red and black—but the “red” patches can instead be orange, yellow, or cream, and the “black” can be chocolate, grey, or blue.
They wear many coats
As if tortoiseshell cats weren’t mysterious enough, their coat patterns come with a whole host of sub-categories! These include the mosaic tortie, or the traditional color combination mixed together to produce that random beauty known to tortie cats. If the colors in a tortie’s coat appear to be woven together, it’s considered bridled.
Then there’s the dilute tortoiseshell cat, whose recessive genes result in “softened” fur colors. If you’ve seen a tortie cat with lighter, pastel-like colors such cream, lilac, or cinnamon, then you’ve seen a dilute tortoiseshell cat.
Looking for more? Look no further than the patched “torbie,” or when tortie meets tabby! The torbie typically features patches of brown and orange tabby patterns, with markings often more apparent on the legs and head.
Rarest of all is the chimera tortie, where two embryos merge in utero to form one animal. A chimera tortoiseshell cat features one color on one side of her body and a different color on the other side. An extreme, well-known example of this is Venus the Two Face Cat.
A female-dominated tribe
Like calicos, 99.9% of tortie cats are female. The chromosome linked to coloring in cats is the X chromosome; therefore, female cats (XX) have two sets of genetic information that can determine their coat color. As the Spruce Pets explains, this genetic process boils down to: “The embryo shuts off one X chromosome in each cell, resulting in orange and black color variations in [female] coats. Because a male cat has one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, he’ll only be orange or black—not both.”
About 1 in 3,000 tortie cats are born male (known as XXY Syndrome), and face the same obstacles as male calicos: They are always sterile and unfortunately tend to have a host of health problems due to their genetic abnormalities. (The only time a male might not be sterile is if he is born the rare chimera tortie—so get your cats neutered regardless!)
Tortitude: Is it real?
So what about tortitude, otherwise known as tortie-specific personality and attitude? Descriptors that likely come to mind with tortie cat parents include sassy, fiercely independent, strong-willed, and, dare we say, diva. Even Jackson Galaxy comments that tortoiseshell cats “tend to have much more distinct personalities and are more sensitive to the stimulus around them.”
Well, tortitude was almost backed by science when a study conducted by UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital came out in 2016—but ultimately researchers didn’t find a link between fur patterns and behavior, temperament, or personality. We’ll let the piles and piles of anecdotal evidence speak for this one!
Tortie tidbits around the globe
Finally, let’s take a few moments to appreciate the wide variety of cultural lore surrounding the tortoiseshell cat, as compiled by tortie fans across the internet:
- In the U.S., both calicos and torties are good luck cats that bring money into the home.
- They’re thought to have psychic abilities and see into the future—plus, they chase off ghosts!
- If you dream of a tortoiseshell cat, you’ll soon be in love.
- A bride hearing a tortie sneeze on her wedding day means good luck.
- Ancient Celts believed it was good luck if a male tortie stayed in their home.
- A legend from Southeast Asia says that tortoiseshell cats were created from the blood of a goddess born from a lotus flower.
Last but not least, a tortie cat fact for Edgar Allen Poe fans! It is said that the famous author had a beautiful tortoiseshell cat named Cattarina for many years. Cattarina passed away in 1849, mere weeks after Poe himself died. In 2012, a trio of kittens was found on the grounds of the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia. Museum staff named them Edgar, Pluto (after the cat in The Black Cat), and Cattarina. Aww!