Calico cats are tri-color coated domestic cats. Despite popular belief, they are not a different breed, they just have different coloration. Their fur is predominantly white with orange and black spots. They have different names in different cultures. For example, they are called lapjeskat (meaning “patches cat”) in Netherlands and mi-ke (meaning “triple fur”) in Japan. Some of cat breeds which sometimes present in calico coloration are Turkish Van, British Shorthair, American Shorthair, Exotic Shorthair, Japanese Bobtail, Persian and Manx.
As calico is just a variation of fur color and not a distinctive breed, its historic origin is not entirely certain. The orange mutant gene common in calico cats has been confirmed to have at some point migrated through domestic cats in North Africa and Southern Europe. It has been observed throughout Mediterranean port cities of Europe, mostly in Spain, France and Italy. It is believed it originates from Egypt.
In many cultures around the world, calico cats are regarded as lucky charms and omen of good luck. They are also believed to bring good fortune to family home which keeps them. They are sometimes referred to as money cats in the United States. Japanese sailors frequent companionship of calico cats in their voyages because of popular belief that the cats will keep them safe from unfavorable seas.
On October of 2001, calico cats were given status of the official state cats of Maryland. Authorities decided to make this move because calico cat fur coloration (mix of black, orange and white) is very similar to that of Baltimore Orion, which is the Maryland state bird representative, Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly, which is the Maryland state insect representative.
Calico cats are often confused for cats with tortoiseshell color patterns. This mistake is easy to make since both variations include same three colors. The main differentiating aspect is that calico cats have distinct color patches, whereas colors of tortoiseshell cats are not as distinct and rather blended together, and have much less or no white patches at all.
Despite the fact you may have heard before that calico cats are particularly sweet (or particularly aggressive according to some) compared to other cats, this is just superstition. This myth does not have factual support in science and genetic research, which have shown that calico cats simply have different fur coloration and retain similar behavior to that of other cats. A calico cat’s behavior and personality remain to be judged on case to case basis.
Calico cat’s fur coloration is a gender trait – calico cats are in most cases female. This is the case because the X chromosome is responsible for both black and orange patches in a cat’s fur coloration (white patches are coded by another gene), and female cats (in accordance to other mammal species) have two X chromosomes. Males on the other hand have X and Y chromosomes, one of each. Because Y chromosome doesn’t contain any coloration genes, male cats typically can’t have a mix of non-orange and orange fur patches together, as the single X chromosome codes either black or orange coat variation. An exception to this rule is when males have XXY structure, which is known as Klinefelter’s syndrome. This is when it is indeed possible for males to have calico or tortoiseshell markings. These cases are, however, extremely rare and generally disregarded as they don’t have any effect on passing on of the genetic pool. Namely, males with XXY chromosomes only pass on one of the X chromosomes to their offspring, removing any chance for male kittens to retain their father’s calico appearance. Male cats with XXY structures are typically sterile anyway, and only one out of three thousand specimens are capable of reproducing.
Calico cats have actually proven useful in research of physiological differences in mammals of opposite genders. Results of this research could potentially one day lead to advances in the fields of sociology, psychiatry, psychology, medicine and biology, as we shed more light to the phenomenon of random X-inactivation in female mammals.
Calico cats are very popular all around the world. One may think they are specially bred because of their popularity, but it is not so. Whether or not you will have calico kittens is always a gamble. Chances of having calico kittens can be increased by either mating black and orange cats or using calico females. However, coloration pattern still remains to be a product of sheer luck. This may lead you to think price of calico kittens are higher than those of regular kittens. This is not true. Professional cat breeders rarely aim to produce calico kittens because it is so based on luck. On other side, many cat owners end up having calico kittens and not wanting to keep them, so it is not rare to see them even be given away for free.
As of today, it is still impossible to pass on calico fur patterns via cloning. This is because of one of the X chromosomes’ random inactivation, an effect called x-linked inactivation. Some scientists ponder on the possibility of this phenomenon’s more widespread influence on the future of cloning, as all female mammals have two X chromosomes.