What You Need to Know About Tortoiseshell Cats

When you hear the word Tortoiseshell, it is important to note it refers to cat coat coloring only. By tortoiseshell cats, we do not mean a new, specific breed of cats. Rather, it is about the group of felines that have coat coloring similar with tortoiseshell material.

Also called Torties, tortoiseshell cats are characterized by their two-colored coat that appear to be huge patches or closely mixed. 

Their coats are most commonly a red and black combination. However, they sometimes have orange, yellow or cream instead of red. Moreover, they have very few to totally no white markings.

Such tortoiseshell coating has been observed in various breeds of felines and even in non-purebred domestic ones.

Moreover, Tortoiseshell patterns are actually preferred among Japanese Bobtails, and there are even some among the Cornish Rex group.

Here are other facts that you may want to know about tortoiseshell cats.


The size of the patches also differs among torties. Some cover a large area with just a single color while others have fine speckles.

Regardless of the size, torties’ patterns are almost always asymmetrical.

Additionally, it has been observed that the more white patches torties have, the more solid their colored patches are.

These torties with large white patches are also sometimes called calibies (or caliby in singular).

Some tortoiseshell cats also feature black and brown, and red tabby patterns. They are referred to as tortie-tabbies or torbies.

Since some patches are large even on the face, they create a “split face” pattern. This happens when one side of the face is different from the other and the border is along the nosebridge.

Female Majority

 Through various breeds of felines, it has been observed that most torties are females.

This is actually caused by their genetic composition. To explain some science behind this, the chromosomes that set the coat colors on felines are also the ones that indicate their sex.

To be more specific, you should know that X is the female sex chromosome.

This X chromosome also causes the color orange or black on feline coats. On the other hand, the Y chromosome for the male sex does not indicate any color information.

Moving forward, female felines have an extra set of two X chromosomes that determine their sex.

As such, there are two codes that may contribute to their coat color. The embryo, however, shuts down one of the X chromosomes from each cell.

This results to an orange and black variation in the color of the coats of felines.

The last set of chromosomes for male felines, on the contrary, compose of an X and a Y.

Since there is just one chromosome that could indicate color, a male feline can only be either orange or black. It is almost impossible that a male feline will have both orange and black.

Yet, there are still very few male tortoiseshell cats. This is caused by the XXY set of chromosomes. 

However, this causes sterility and other serious health problems. As such, the XXY chromosome causes the male torties to have shorter life than the female ones.

 Distinctive Temperament

Although torties don’t belong to a particular breed, some view that these colored felines have a distinctive temperament called tortitude.

This was based on the study conducted and published by the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

The said study particularly focused on the co-relation of the felines’ coat color and their behavior.

It was found that torties in general are highly energetic, sassy and quite aggressive. These qualities comprise the tortitude.

However, the co-relation that the researchers find between coat color and temperament was not very conclusive.

According to Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, what really contributes to the feline’s personality is its genetics and environment. (Dr. Colleran  is a former president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and owner of two hospitals for cats.)

Good Luck

Some countries believe that tortoiseshell cats bring good luck. They are even subjects to some folklore.

 In folklore in Southeast Asia, for one, torties were said to have come from the blood of a young goddess. The Japanese in particular believes that their homes can be protected from ghosts by the torties.

In English folklore, moreover, it is said that rubbing the torties’ tail on a wart is an effective remedy. While, in the United States, tortoiseshell cats are considered money cats and that they can attract good fortune to their homes.

Closing Words

Regardless of the belief in your country and the “tortitude”, tortoiseshell cats are very much nice to have at home.

They are beautifully colored and they could bring more life to your place. In fact, even the former US president Ronald Reagan and actress Lea Michele were compelled to adopt stray torties. That’s how simply irresistible these torties are!

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