Skip to main content

5 fun facts about calico cats you should know

Cats come in a variety of colors and coat patterns, ranging from solid white to jet black and everything in between. For a cat to be considered a calico, three different colors must be present in her coat: black, red, and white. Tortoiseshell cats, which are sometimes confused with calicos, don’t have white in their coats. Instead, they’re usually black and red, sometimes seen with a hint of peaches and cream mixed in. On occasion, you’ll see a lighter tortie in shades of lilac and cream, known as dilute calicos. While no official calico cat breeds exist, you’ll often find these colorful fur babies in numerous cat breeds, including Persians, Maine coons, Manx cats, American shorthairs, and British shorthairs. Let’s delve into five interesting facts you should know about calico cats. 

A close-up of a calico cat with a pink nose.

1. Most calico cats are female

Did you know that only one out of every 3,000 calico cats is male? Male calicos are so rare that even your local veterinarian will most likely go their entire career without seeing one in person. Here’s why: The gene responsible for your cat’s coloration is located on the X chromosome. Female cats (XX) have a much greater chance of inheriting the unique calico pattern than male cats (XY). But what about those rare males? Sadly, they have an extra chromosome (XXY), and they’re usually sterile

2. Some consider calico cats to be lucky

In October 2021, Maryland adopted the calico cat as the official state cat. Why the calico? The Baltimore Orioles, Maryland’s Major League Baseball team, wear the same colors (black, orange, and white) on their uniforms. Because of their rarity, male calicos are thought to be particularly auspicious in the United States and the United Kingdom. Calicos are also considered lucky in Japan, with sailors taking calico cats out to sea for protection and good luck. Irish folklore claims that rubbing a wart on a calico’s tail during the month of May will remove it. And some people call them “money cats,” claiming they invite abundance and prosperity into the lives of their owners. 

A long-haired calico cat with green eyes gazes up at the camera.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

3. A Japanese calico named Tama was made a Shinto goddess

A calico cat named Tama was made the stationmaster of Kishi Station in the Wakayama prefecture, the first feline stationmaster in Japan. In exchange for her services, she received a stationmaster’s cap and a salary of cat food. Ticket sales jumped by over 10%, and an adorable line of Tama-inspired merchandise went up for grabs, allowing the struggling railway station to remain open. Tama’s hard work paid off, as she was knighted by Wakayama’s governor. When Tama passed in 2015 at the age of 16, she was awarded the title “Honorable Eternal Station Master.” According to the Japanese Shinto faith, Tama is now considered the goddess of the Yakayama Electric Railway. Her former co-worker, Nitama, which means “Tama Two” in Japanese, is Kishi Station’s current stationmaster.

4. You can’t breed a calico cat

Because the genetic combination responsible for creating calico cats happens by chance, it’s impossible to breed them. The genes responsible for black and orange fur are also found on the X chromosome. Only if a cat has an X chromosome carrying the genetic sequence for black coloring and an X chromosome carrying the genetic sequence for orange coloring will the black and orange genes combine to create a calico cat. Even if you successfully clone a calico cat, the cloned cat’s color markings will differ from the original cat’s because, in addition to genetics, womb conditions also affect a cat’s coat pattern. 

5. No one knows exactly where calicos come from, but it’s probably Egypt

With no official records in sight to document the calico cat breed’s origins, researchers were left in the dark for a long time. Fortunately, Neil Todd, who studied the migration routes of domestic cats, discovered a missing link in the history of the calico cat’s origins. According to Todd, the genetic mutation responsible for red hair in calicos probably originated in Egypt. Later on, calicos migrated to Greece, Italy, and Spain. Once there, they made their way throughout Europe, eventually reaching North America and Asia. Interestingly enough, the calico’s name comes from India, not Egypt. Calicos are named after calico cloth, a woven fabric from Calcutta that’s dyed in a variety of bright hues and intricate patterns. 

A calico cat yawns as she stretches out on a bed.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Editors' Recommendations

Topics
Mary Johnson
Contributor
Mary Johnson is a writer and photographer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has been published in PawTracks and…
How often should I feed my cat? Here’s what to know about cat feeding schedules
There's a lot more to think about than just what cat food to buy
Cat licking lips over food bowl

Trying to find the perfect food for your cat can be difficult -- just ask any cat owner with a picky eater at home. The shops and internet are home to endless delicious and nutritious options to choose from, but buying the best food for your cat is only half the battle — your cat's feeding schedule is another code to crack. If you've ever wondered, "How often should I feed my cat," you're not alone.

You can feed cats anywhere from one to five times a day, depending on their individual needs. After all, it's no secret that every cat has a distinct personality, right? No matter how often you feed your cat, their feeding schedule can impact their digestive system, energy level, and overall happiness, so finding the perfect balance for them is essential. Like many other animals, cats love routine, and once they learn their feeding schedule, they'll happily remind you of it.

Read more
What fish can live with bettas? These are your best bets for fish buddies
Bettas can't live with one another so you should look to other species for friendship
Blue betta fish staring at the camera

Betta fish are known for being territorial, feisty, rather combative, and therefore not great tank mates in general. This reputation, however, only holds true in particular situations and with certain fish friends. Male betta fish are aggressive, but only with other male bettas, so it is important to never put two males in the same tank. It will lead to tail-nipping behavior and other aggressive actions. So, what fish can live with bettas?

Happily, there are several other fish that can keep your betta company in a safe and non-aggressive environment. Many colorful, friendly fish cohabitate well with bettas. This is our guide to finding the perfect fish companion (or companions) for your betta.

Read more
Meet the 5 newest dog breeds and what makes them so special
If you’re thinking of bringing home a new dog, consider one of these elusive breeds
A Bracco Italiano runs on the beach

Some dog owners (and fans of dogs) can name dozens of dog breeds like the back of their hands, but others can't even tell the difference between a dachshund and a Corgi breed. That's OK! As long as a dog owner knows how to take good care of their fur baby, they don't necessarily need to know the fun facts. At the same time, learning about different dog breeds can be valuable in certain situations, whether you like watching dog shows or are considering volunteering at a rescue.

Even if it's just for fun, there's a lot you'll want to know about the five newest dog breeds in the show universe. The American Kennel Club (AKC) is one of the largest dog breed registries in the world, and it oversees the standards and requirements for each new breed that's created. Since 2021, it has welcomed five new breeds to its ranks, and you may have even seen these dogs in a local or televised dog show (except for the newest breed, that is).

Read more