Tortoiseshell cats are one of the world’s favourite moggies. Coming in a range of colors and patterns, with no two exactly the same, a tortie cat can make a great companion.
However, there is more to the tortie cat than meets the eye. Most people don’t know that the unique color of tortoiseshell cat is down to some pretty interesting genetics. For example, you might not realise that almost all tortoiseshells are female.
Here, to help you look into the wonderful tortoiseshell world, we have gathered together 35 fun facts about tortie cats.
Let’s start by looking at why so many owners love tortoiseshell cats, and why you might just want one.
The Beauty of Tortoiseshells
Do you currently own a wonderful Tortoiseshell cat?
Have you always been a fan of this distinctive pattern?
Or, perhaps, you are looking for a new, fun, and loving companion?
Whatever the reason for your interest, there is one thing we can all agree on. Tortoiseshell cats are amazing.
If you are looking to adopt a new cat, why should you choose a tortoiseshell?
Let’s look at the wonderful world of cats. How does the humble tortoiseshell stack up against other breeds?
The Wonderful World of Cats!
Did you know there are an incredible 42 different pedigree cat breeds?
There are also countless mixes, as well as many color variations and patterns.
It’s no surprise that some people have a difficult time trying to figure out what kind of feline friend to choose.
But wait! While some pedigree cats and mixes are gorgeous and make great pets, what about the humble tortoiseshell? She can make a beautiful and affectionate companion, yet potential owners often overlook these cats.
The tortoiseshell pattern is what attracts so many potential owners. Tortoiseshell cats come in so many patterns and colors, and these delightful cats have so many personalities, that you might just find the right cat for you.
If you aren’t looking for a specific purebred cat, and instead want a unique kitty to share your your life, why not choose one with an interesting color? The tortoiseshell coloring is definitely one of the more intriguing options.
In fact, there are so many interesting things to learn about these cats that we have compiled them together in a list! If you are not sure if a tortie cat is the one for you, maybe these fun facts will change your mind.
So, it’s time to check out 30 outstanding tortoiseshell cat facts. Some of these you may know, but we are sure that some will surprise you.
In this article, we will mainly talk about tortoiseshell cats with two colors. However, some people call calico cats ‘white tortoiseshell, so we include a few facts about those, too.
Let’s start by discussing the differences between tortis and calicos.
1. Tortoiseshell vs Calico
Although people are not always aware of the differences, the tortoiseshell calico cat and the tortoiseshell are actually two different types of cat.
Calico is the term used to describe a tricolored or patched coloration that includes white. In other words, the cat will have black and orange patches.
Tortoiseshell cat coats have two colors, which does not include white. The colors are either mixed, giving that ‘salt and pepper’ appearance, or they occur in larger, distinct patches.
Although usually red and black, these colors can vary, with some cats boasting orange or yellow instead of red, or chocolate or grey instead of black. Just to add even more variation, one or both of the colors can be tabby.
Sometimes, people call cats with small patches of white ‘tortoiseshell,’ but the term is generally reserved for bicolor cats with no white color. Another type of tortie cat is the dilute tortie.
2. Dilute Tortoiseshells are Calico Cats
Although most torties are red and black, some have muted colors. Instead of bold and striking patches of color, their coats have softer, pastel colors.
Rather than red and black, these dilute tortoiseshell cats have orange and grey patches, yellow and chocolate, or other subtle color variations that make torties so unique.
However, these dilute color kitties are still tortoiseshell cats, but their genes have a mutation that leads to the muted colors.
Blue and cream tortoiseshells are a common combination that you might see, and this type of feline is often called a blue tortoiseshell cat. Here, the blue does not really refer to blue, but to a blue-gray color.
Although a tortoiseshell does not usually have white in its coat, which is calico, they can have smaller patches of white in their fur.
3. Tortoiseshells can have White Patches
If you see a tortoiseshell cat with small patches of white, this is called a tortoiseshell and white cat.
This cat has far less white than a calico or a dilute feline, and the other patches of red and black cover the majority of the body.
While we are on the subject of white tortoiseshell/calico cats, did you know that calicos are a state mascot?
4. White Tortoiseshells are the Official Cat of Maryland!
You heard us right! The calico or white tortoiseshell cat is the official cat of Maryland. The state cat became official on October 1, 2001.
The feline shares the same color pattern as the oriole, the state’s official bird, so the calico was the obvious choice.
Next, one that might shock you!
5. There Is No Individual Tortoiseshell Cat Breed
Many people don’t know this, but there is no tortoiseshell cat breed. We call them torties, and most of us know one, but they don’t form a breed. What’s going on?
The tortoiseshell coloring is a variation seen in many different breeds of cat, and it is caused by simple genetics.
The variation is caused by x-linked genes and is called a mosaic expression. While it appears complicated, the term ‘expression’ means that only one x-linked gene for hair color is expressed in each cell. This results in the mixed or patched coloring depending on which gene is left “on” in each cell. Let’s explain this a little further.
Cats, like humans, have sex chromosomes. A female has two X chromosomes in each cell, which we call XX. Males have only one X chromosome and a Y chromosome, XY.
In cats, the X chromosome contains lots of other information, including instructions about coat coloring. Because female cats have two X chromosomes, they receive two sets of instructions (genes) for coat color in each cell. In tortoiseshell cats, these instructions don’t match because they’ve got one gene for orange fur and one gene for black fur.
Now it gets amazing – during an unborn kitten’s earliest development, one X chromosome in every single cell deactivates. This process is known as lyonization, and the X chromosome which deactivates is completely random in each cell.
So, some skin cells retain the instruction for orange fur, and others keep the instruction for black fur. So, a tortoiseshell pattern emerges!
You’ll note that we talked about female cats. That’s because, believe it or not, almost all tortoiseshell cats are female.
6. Most Tortoiseshell Cats are Female
When we talked about tortoiseshell color, we discussed the XX genes in each cell, and pointed out that each hada different color. Male cats don’t have the XX chromosomes, because they must be XY.
Therefore, because two X chromosomes with genes for different colors are needed, males cannot be torties. This means that our torti patterned felines are female, since only females have two x chromosomes.
Or does it…?
7. … But You Can Get Males Occasionally!
Are all tortoiseshell cats female?
No, there are actually some male tortoiseshell felines.
However, they are not very common.
Since the color pattern requires two x chromosomes, only male cats with an XX-Y gene mutation will appear to be tortoiseshell. This means that the cat can have the different color genes on each chromosome, but the male cat will have some other issues.
8. Male Tortoiseshell Cats Are Usually Sterile
Male tortoiseshell cats, with XXY chromosomes, are relatively healthy in most ways and can live a long and healthy life.
However, a male tortoiseshell cat is sterile due to the abnormal number and pattern of the chromosomes in the cellular DNA.
Approximately 1 in 3,000 (0.033%) of male cats have this condition, and their cells can undergo the same X-inactivation process as females. XXY males are invariably sterile and will remain rare.
9. This Sterility Can Be Seen In Humans!
The unique chromosomal pattern of the male tortoiseshell is sometimes seen in human males, too.
The condition is called Klinefelter syndrome in humans and leads to a significant reduction in testosterone.
The lower testosterone levels often lead to a quiet, calm, and sensitive personality, and you may just see these same characteristics in your male feline.
So, a male tortoiseshell may be the gentle and loving companion you are looking for.
Of course, you have to find one first!
10. Fertile Male Torties Are Rare, But They Do Exist!
Traditional male torties are sterile, but a relatively old study from the 1980s revealed that this is not always true.
Scientists found two fertile Burmese tortoiseshell tabby cats in the United States.
The cats did not have two X chromosomes, but the regular XY patterning seen in most male cats.
Researchers concluded that their tortoiseshell coloring was caused by the instability of certain genes linked to hair color.
In other words, the orange hair genes randomly turned off in some cells and produced the tortoiseshell appearance.
Whether male or female, hair length is something else that owners look for. Some like cats with short hair, while other are fanatics for long haired cats. Luckily, the torti cat coats come in all lengths.
11. Tortoiseshell Cat Hair Can Vary In Length
Tortoiseshell cats come in both long and short hair varieties. Whether you want a long haired tortie kitten with a luscious coat, or a short and easy to maintain version, you’ll find the right cat to suit you.
If you searched hard you could even find a tortoiseshell Persian cat or a tortoiseshell Siamese mix. Look at your local animal rescue facilities and breeders, and you might be surprised what you can find.
What if you want to adopt a tortoiseshell feline friend. Are there any health issues you should look for?
12. Tortoiseshell Cat Color Isn’t Connected to Health
If you are concerned about tortoiseshell cat health problems, then don’t worry.
Since the torties are not a specific breed, there are no health issues associated directly with the cats.
However, you should be concerned about general health issues and remember that if, for example, you have a Persian torti cat, you’ll need to look out for the health problems associated with Persians.
As always, when looking for a tortie, look out for the general cat health. According to an extensive Finnish study, the most common feline ailments involve the mouth, kidneys, and skin.
Assuming that you find a healthy torti cat, how long will she live for?
13. Tortoiseshell Cat Lifespan Depends Upon Breed
Again, because tortoiseshell doesn’t mean a particular breed, their lifespan can vary. If you know that your tortie belongs to a specific breed, such as American Shorthair or Cornish Rex, then look at the lifespan for that cat.
If you are not sure, you can look at the average feline lifespan to determine the tortoiseshell cat lifespan.
According to a UK study that looked at the longevity and mortality of over 100,000 cats, the average lifespan was found to be 14 years.
Crossbred or mixed breed cats live longer, so you do not have to go searching for a purebred if you want a lifelong companion.
14. Some People Think Tortoiseshell Cats Are Lucky!
According to some traditional folklore, the white, or calico tortoiseshell cat brings good luck.
For this reason, the people in the United States often call them “money cats.’
It’s not just money – amazingly, some people think that calicos are magical cats.
15. Others Believe That Torties Are Mystical!
Not only are torties considered good luck charms, but they may just ward off ghosts and evil spirits according to Japanese culture.
In fact, the people of Japan sometimes kept these cats on their boats to protect themselves while out on the water.
16. One Tortie Lived to 21 Years Old!
Marzipan, one of the most famous torties in the world, was a white tortoiseshell cat living in Melbourne, Australia.
This feline, who lived to be 21, enjoyed her life in the Astor Theatre and welcomed guests who arrived to watch movies in the cinema. She isn’t the only famous tortoiseshell cat. The Japanese went one better!
17. The Station Master Tortoiseshell Cat
Tama, a working cat in Japan is also a white tortoiseshell tabby cat.
This impressive feline was the station master for the Kishi Station on the Kishigawa Line in Kinokawa, Wakayama. Her job was to meet passengers and she was paid with cat food.
This tortoiseshell station master even wore her own hat and neck badge to signify her position. Like many of our beloved torties, she had a larger-than-life personality!
18. Tortoiseshell Cat Personality Varies
The tortoiseshell cat personality varys, simply because they can be from a range of breeds. As a result, they most often show the personality and temperament common to that breed.
However, many people claim that the tortie has its own unique personality that makes them very demanding. They are the divas of the feline world.
For this reason, tortie lovers refer to this personality as “tortitude.”
Although most studies have shown no special personality traits linked to torties, some studies and many owners disagree!
19. But There Could Be A Tortie Attitude!
Tortitude may actually be a real thing, according to a study conducted by the University of California.
According to the study, tortoiseshell and calico cat owners described their cats as stubborn and strong-willed in the vast majority of cases.
All very interesting and we are sure that many of you agree. The owners in the study also suggested that their tortie cat was full of energy and mischief.
20. Tortoiseshells Could be Energetic
Many people also associate high energy levels with tortoiseshell cat behavior or tortitude.
Is this true? We don’t know, but just in case, make sure that you have plenty of toys lying around. You may want to keep your feline active and happy.
21. The Word ‘Tortoiseshell’ Could Come From Turtles, Not Tortoises…
Some people are confused by the term tortoiseshell, because a tortoise’s shell is often a fairly uniform dark brown or green color, with little color variation.
However, the hawksbill sea turtle boasts a much more varied shell color, with rich tones of brown and orange.Why, then, do we call these cats tortoiseshells and not turtleshells? Surprisingly, the answer lies in the world of jewelry.
Yes, you heard us right!
The old fashioned ‘tortoiseshell’ jewelry wasn’t made from tortoises but from turtle shells. The term, tortoiseshell, actually comes from this jewelry, because it resembles the tortie’s coat.
Up to 22 facts, now – we’re almost there and hope that you are starting to love tortis just as much as we do!
22. Mitt Brushes are Great for Long Haired Torties
Mitt brushes or grooming gloves are often useful for grooming a feisty long haired tortoiseshell cat. Perhaps she has tortitude and doesn’t like being brushed.
These gloves can help you to brush your feline with gentle strokes, and she will not even know that you are brushing her.
Now, for the next fun fact – the torbie.
23. A Tortoiseshell Tabby is Called a Torbie
Sometimes, tortoiseshell cats can have tabby patterns in one or both colors.
A gray tortoiseshell cat or a tortoiseshell tabby cat, called a torbie, can sometimes have a unique color pattern called mackerel.
This unique name refers to the narrow and solid stripes that run vertically down the body of a tabby.
The mackerel pattern makes the feline look like a tiger cat, but the term mackerel suggests the appearance of a mackerel fish.
So, if you see this sort of pattern on a tortie, then you have a mackerel torbie.
Torbies are just another wonderful tortie variation, but can you breed tortoiseshell cats?
24. Tortoiseshell colors are genetic
If you want a specific tortoiseshell pattern, then you can breed for the pattern and color.
Color combinations do depend on genetics and they are not guaranteed, but you are much more like to see a tortoiseshell kitten if you breed with a tortoiseshell mother.
Breeding a tortie with black and red males increases the chances of ending up with tortie kittens in the litter.
Red males will often produce felines with more of a red color, while black ones will often produce a black tortoiseshell cat.
Talking of color – did you know that some tortoiseshell cats appear to be one color? Neither did we!
25. Some Tortoiseshell Cats Appear to be One Color
Some tortoiseshell cats look like they have a solid color, even if the mother is a tortie. If you cannot tell if your feline is a tortie kitten, then inspect the back of your cat to look for hair color variation.
There are more hair follicles on the back of a feline than anywhere else, so it may be easier to see bits of orange, black, or white in this area.
26. Muted Tortoiseshells can be Described as Brindle
Felines, like the muted tortoiseshell cat, are sometimes referred to as brindle. Brindle is a brown, tawny, or a light hair color with streaks of other colors mixed in.
Since brindle is most often used to describe the color of a dog, tortoiseshell is a more apt description.
However, you might want to use the term brindle to describe the pattern of different colors in your tortoiseshell.
I think we have talked about color a lot, so for those of you still not convinced by tortoiseshells, what about their personality?
27. Breed has more Influence on Personality than the Tortie Color
If you are looking for a specific tortoiseshell cat personality, then you should investigate the different cat breeds.
For example, Ragdoll, Persian, and Siamese cats are typically quite affectionate and make great companions.
You can then ask a breeder to let you know when a tortie kitten is born with the distinct tortoiseshell coloring.
We’re almost at the end. Why don’t we take a break from cats and talk about beautiful butterflies?
28. There is a Tortoiseshell butterfly!
The term tortoiseshell is not only used to describe jewelry and felines. There is actually a tortoiseshell butterfly as well.
The Aglais urticae is called the small tortoiseshell and features orange and black wings with yellow and black stripes on the top.
A small patch of white is found on the tips of the wings. They are stunning butterflies and well worthy of the name. Talking of names, tortie owners come up with some great names for their cats.
29. Tortoiseshell Cats can Inspire Amazing Names
Tortoiseshell cats often have unique names like Isis, Nubia, or Nefertiti.
These traditional Egyptian names are perfect for the cats, because tortoiseshells can be traced back to the Egyptians.
If you have any cool tortoiseshell cat names, let us know in the comments.
30. The Tortoiseshell Goddess
Did you know that some people in South East Asia believe that the first tortoiseshell cat had a divine origin.
She emerged from the blood of a goddess born from a lotus flower.
That really is one of our favorite stories about the origins of torti cats!
31. Tortoiseshells as a Love Charm
Another great myth about tortie cats says that, if you dream of a tortoiseshell cat, you are destined to be lucky in love.
Who knows? Maybe it will work for some of you!
32. Fortune Telling Tortoiseshells
One final myth, although we have no idea where it comes from, is that tortoiseshells are able to see into the future.
Even better, they can pass this gift on to a child in the household.
Although most of these myths probably are not true, we don’t care because we adore our tortoiseshell cats all the same!
33. WE LOVE TORTOISESHELL CATS!
Tortoiseshell cats are one of the most beautiful patterns around, and are simply wonderful cats!
Our favorite tortoiseshell cats are actually unique felines with brilliant color patterns, unique personalities, and a rich history. Few other types of cat collect so many myths and old wives’ tales.
If you are looking for that unique kitty in your life with a bit of attitude (or “tortitude”), then go ahead and find a tortie at your local animal shelter or breeder. Not only can you find a cat with beautiful colors, you can find ones with long coats or short coats, or find a Persian or British Shorthair tortie.
Few other cats come in such a range of colors and personalities.
Do you have a tortie of your own that you love, or do you have a feline with a unique tortoiseshell color pattern? Let us know in the comments below.
We regularly update this page in response to reader comments – we last updated this page in May 2019.
Pedersen AS, Berg LC, Almstrup K. A tortoiseshell male cat: chromosome analysis and histologic examination of the testis. Cytogenet Genome Res. 2014
Moran C, Gillies CB, Nicholas FW. Fertile male tortoiseshell cats. Mosaicism due to gene instability? J Hered. 1984.
O’Neill DG, Church DB, McGreevy PD, Thomson PC, Brodbelt DC. Longevity and mortality of cats attending primary care veterinary practices in England. J Feline Med Surg. 2015
Elizabeth A. Stelow. The Relationship Between Coat Color and Aggressive Behaviors in the Domestic Cat. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 2016
Kosowska, B., Januszewski, A.S., Tokarska, M., Jach, H., and Zdrojewicz, Z. Cytogenetic and histologic studies of tortoiseshell cats, Medycyna Weterynaryjna 57(7), 2001.
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