Of all the different varieties of cat, Calico cats are some of the most popular around the world. Due to their colors, this cat is also often known as the tortoiseshell cat as the pattern on their coats resembles that of the shell of a tortoise.
The distinctive markings and other features of these cats that make them particularly interesting in comparison to other cat varieties. Calico cats also have an unusual history and they are of great interest in many fields of science.
While many people can recognize a Calico cat, there are many things that people do not know. Here are 20 facts that you probably didn’t know about the Calico cat.
1. It is Not a Breed
When people refer to Calico cats, they are not talking about a breed because the Calico cat breed does not exist. Referring to a Calico is not the same as referring to a Persian or Siamese cat.
The word Calico actually refers to the coloring and pattern of these cats rather than to the variety of cat they are or their parentage. They are a domestic cat that is spotted or particolored.
They are usually predominantly white with markings in two other colors, typically orange and black. The amount of each color that the cat has on their coat differs from one cat to the next. The pattern of each cat is unique, so no two Calico cats are exactly the same.
2. They Are known by Several Other Names
The Calico cat is the name given to these cats in North America. However, in other parts of the world, they are known by a variety of other names and this is most-commonly tortoiseshell-and-white or just Tortoiseshell.
French Canadians in the province of Quebec refer to Calico cats as chatte d’Espagne, which translates as female cat of Spain. Other names include brindle, tricolor cat, and tobi mi-ke, which translates from Japanese as ‘triple fur’.
A further name is lapjeskat, which is Dutch for ‘patches cat’ and simply describes the pattern found on Calico cats. If the cat has a tabby patterning combined with the calico colors, it is sometimes referred to as a Caliby.
3. They Probably Originate from Egypt
The exact origins of Calico cats are a little unclear as they are a color of cat rather than a breed. Therefore, it is difficult to trace their exact place of origin and when they were first bred. It is not the same as having a pedigree cat so there are no official written records about the breeding or registration of a Calico cat.
However, there have been studies into the origins of Calico cats and these have revealed a little more about the history of Calicos. There is evidence to suggest that cats with this coloring first appeared in Egypt.
It was Neil Todd who discovered this when he was studying the migration routes of domestic cats from Northern Africa to Europe. He discovered that the orange mutant gene carried by Calico cats had probably originated in Egypt and then these cats had traveled to Mediterranean ports in Italy, Greece, and Spain. Calico cats then spread further across Europe and then into Asia and North America.
4. Most Calico Cats are Female
While most cat colors are fairly evenly split in terms of male and female cats of that color, this is not the case with Calico cats as nearly all of them are female. In fact, over 99% of all Calico cats are female and this is all down to genetics.
This is a feature that makes Calico cats stand out from other varieties or breeds of cat. The genetic explanation of how the colorings occur and why they are only female is rather complicated, but also interesting.
The locus of the gene for whether a cat will have orange or non-orange coloring is on the X chromosome. The alleles present in the orange loci determine whether or not orange will be present in the fur in the absence of other influences, such as the color inhibition that causes white fur.
Female mammals have two X chromosomes while male mammals have on X chromosome and one Y chromosome. The calico coloring is created when a cat has genes for both the orange and the non-range genes together.
This is also how Tortoiseshell coloring is created. As male cats do not have two X chromosomes, they cannot have this coloring. A male is only produced in very rare cases when faulty cell division leaves an X chromosome in one of the gametes that produce a male cat.
5. Eleven Breeds Allow Calico Coloration in Their Standards
Although many Calico cats are crossbreeds of two or more official feline breeds, there are some pedigree cats that are Calico in color. According to official bodies, there are eleven different cat breeds that are allowed to have Calico colors in the breed standards.
These are the Manx, the Norwegian Forest Cat, the British Shorthair, the Arabian Mau, the Turkish Angora, the Japanese Bobtail, the Siberian, the Turkish Van, the American Shorthair, the Exotic Shorthair, and the Persian. Calico cats can also occur in crossbreeds, but these are not recognized by the official bodies.
6. There is a Variety of Calico Cat Called the Dilute Calico
There is a variation of the Calico cat which is known as the Dilute Calico. As its name suggests, this variety of the Calico cat is lighter in color. Although these are not necessarily rare, they are less common than the regular Calico cats.
While the traditional Calico has a patterned coat with white, black, and either red, brown or orange, the Dilute Calico has a distinctive coat in grey, silver, and gold colors. This cat is also referred to as a light Calico due to their lack of dark colorings.
Other names for this type of Calico cat include the Calimanco or the Clouded Tiger.
7. There is Actually a Difference Between Calico Cats and Tortoiseshells
It is not unusual for people to refer to Calico cats as being Tortoiseshells or tortoiseshell-and-white. This is because their tricolor and pattern resemble the markings of a shell on a tortoise.
However, there is actually a difference between Tortoiseshell cats and Calico cats. The genetic make-up of Calico cats and Tortoiseshell cats are almost exactly the same with the exception of one difference.
Calico cats express a white spotting gene that is not present in Tortoiseshells. Unless you are an expert in cats or genetics, it would be very difficult to tell the difference between a Calico cat and a Tortoiseshell cat simply by sight.
8. Murray Barr Conducted the First Serious Study of Calico Cats
The most significant study into Calico cats was conducted by a man called Murray Barr. He began his studies in 1948 and was assisted by his graduate student E.G. Bertram. They noticed a difference in the nuclei of nerve cells in male and female cats.
While the female cats’ nerve cells had masses in the shape of drumsticks next to the nuclei, these were not present in the nerve cells of the male cats. These masses were named Barr Bodies after the scientist who discovered them.
A Japanese cell biologist called Susumu Ohno extended this study and discovered in 1959 that the masses were actually X chromosomes. Further advances into these studies were made in 1961 by Mary Lyon and it was her work that led to a clear understanding of the unique genetic patterns of Calico cats.
The findings relating to Calico cats from the various studies undertaken over the years are important as they have identified physiological differences between the males and females of other mammals.
9. There is a Famous Poem Called ‘The GIngham Dog and the Calico Cat’
Calico cats have appeared in the media and in literature on many occasions. One particularly notable poem that is about a Calico cat is ‘The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat’.
This 19th-century poem was written by Eugene Filed and was also called ‘The Duel’. Field was a famous American children’s writer and humorist of that era. The poem is in the style of a limerick in many parts.
This poem was the inspiration for a track released by Chet Atkins and Amy Grant in 1993 called ‘The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat’. This was also the name of their album.
10. Many Cultures Believe Calico Cats Bring Good Luck
It is often the black cat that is typically associated with luck. Some cultures consider a black cat crossing your path as good luck while others believe that this cat is bad luck.
They are not the only type of cat that is associated with luck as the Calico cat is also seen as a sign of good luck in many cultures. According to Irish folklore, if you have a wart on your foot and you rub your foot against a Calico cat, the wart will disappear.
Many people in the United States also believe that this cat will bring you good luck and they are often called ‘money cats’ as people associate them with financial good fortune.
11. Cloning a Calico Cat is Impossible
There have been studies into the potential of cloning a Calico cat to reproduce its markings. However, attempts to do this so far have been unsuccessful and experts believe that it is impossible.
This is a subject which has been written about by Penelope Tsernoglou. She explains that this is because of an effect called x-linked inactivation. This involved the random inactivation of one of a mammal’s X chromosomes and makes it impossible to clone.
She also makes an interesting point about the implications of these findings on future cloning as all female mammals have tow X Chromosomes.
12. They Are the Official State Cat of Maryland
According to local folklore in the state of Maryland, Calico cats bring good fortune. Maryland also has a state bird, orioles. An interesting point is that both orioles and Calico cats have similar colorings.
Another interesting fact is that Maryland is one of only four states to have a named state cat. Arizona has the ring-tailed cat as its official state cat, while Maine has the Maine Coon cat and Massachusetts has the Tabby Cat.
13. Male Calico Cats Are Infertile
Due to the genetic line of Calico cats, male Calico cats are extremely rare. In fact, there is probably only one male born in every 300 Calico cats. Due to their rarity, they are considered special. However, there is a problem with most male cats as they are usually infertile.
This is because they inherit a condition called Klinefelter’s syndrome that leaves them sterile. Klinefelter syndrome is also referred to as XXY syndrome and it is when a faulty division of cells has left an additional X chromosome in the gametes that produce a male cat.
Of all the male Calico cats born, it is estimated that only one in every thousand is fertile. Infertility is not the only problem that is suffered by male Calico cats.
They can suffer from a wide range of health problems, including genital deformities, brain damage, and organ failure. As male Calico cats are like an accident of nature, this could be nature’s way of preventing the breeding of male Calico cats.
14. They Are Popular in Japan
One of the cultures that hold the Calico cat in high-esteem are the Japanese. In the Japanese culture, people have believed for many centuries that Calico cats will bring good luck and that they have the power to protect you from harm.
These beliefs originate from the times when Japanese sailors who have a Calico cat on board to keep them safe while they were at sea. To this day, the Japanese still see the Calico cat as a sign of good fortune and as a symbol of protection.
Maybe their beliefs are true because there is a famous story of how a Calico cat saved its entire family from burning to death in a fire.
When the blaze broke out, the brave kept when to each bedroom in the house and scratched on the door until each member of the family had woken. The cats actions saved its entire family from the blaze and nobody was harmed in the incident.
15. Calico Cats Feature in Artwork
The pattern and color of a Calico cat makes it much more visually interesting to look at than may other colors and patterns of cats. It is possibly for this reason that Calico cats are so popular with artists and have appeared in so many paintings.
One artist who painted Calico cats often is the 18th-century French artist Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin. Calico cats appear in a number of his works and often showed the playful and mischievous side of this variety of cat.
For example, one painting features a cat trying to steal a fish from a fish hook and another shows a Calico cat reaching across a bed to pinch food on a plate on the bedside cabinet. Another artist who famously painted Calico cats is Utagawa Kuniyoshi.
This Japanese artist used Calico cats as the subject of his paintings in the 1800s. his artist had a distinctive yet simple style and his work features Calico cats in playful poses.
16. John Ashcroft is Apparently Scared of Calico Cats
It is believed that former General Attorney John Ashcroft has a fear of Calico cats. According to the rumor, while he was visiting the American embassy in Holland, Ashcroft got rather nervous when he saw Calico cats near the building.
He apparently believes that Calico cats are a sign of the devil. He has since denied the claims that he is afraid of Calico cats, but people still insist that the rumors are true. They have based this view on his other extreme religious views, about which he has spoken openly in the past.
Ashcroft’s alleged beliefs that the Calico cat is a sign of the devil is in contrast to most people’s perceptions of this cat as it is more often connected to money, good fortune, and protection. If nothing else, they are known for their laid-back and playful natures.
17. There Are Some Famous Calico Cats
There are several examples of Calico cats that are famous. A famous Japanese cat called Tama became a local celebrity when she stopped the Kinowaka train station from being closed down.
In 2007, officials had planned to close this railway station as it was underused and they faed budget issues. In an attempt to save their railway station, the local people appointed Tama the Cailco cat as the stationmaster and this attracted a lot of attention from the public and the media.
As she had become a celebrity at the station and would great passengers, ridership increased by 17% and it prevented the railway from being closed. Australian city Melbourne also has its own celebrity cat.
Marzipan was a Calico cat that lived at Astor Theatre in Melbourne. She greeted the visitors to the movie theatre for 21 years and would often sit on people’s laps when they were watching a movie.
Sadly, Marzipan died in 2017 at the age of 21. Of course, there are some Calico cats who attract attention to themselves for all the wrong reasons. That was certainly the case for a stray Calico kitten in New York.
The rabid young cat caused the health-department to robo-call every resident living in the suburban area in which she was found.
18. Japanese Maneki-Neko Figurines Are Based on Calico Cats
The famous Japanese Maneki-neko cat figurines are based on Calico cats. These Japanese figurines are usually made from ceramics, plastic or metal and are believed to bring the owner good luck.
They are often positioned at the entrance to a business and some have a battery-operated slow-moving paw. People have often mistakenly believed that these figurines are Chinese as they can often be found in Chinese restaurants and takeaways.
However, the Chinese have simply adopted the tradition of having one of these good luck symbols in their restaurants from the Japanese. The Maneki-neko figurines date back to some time in the 1850s.
While some say they were first produced in Tokyo, others argue that Kyoto is the place of their origin.
19. Sue Hubble Wrote a Book About Calico Cat Genetics
The genetic line of Calico cats is of great interest to scientists in various fields, including those who study animals and those who work in the genetics field. Their unique genetics is so interesting that a book was written about the subject by Sue Hubble.
Her book is titled ‘Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering before We Knew About Genes’. Her book describes in detail how the genetic makeup of the cat will dictate the proportion of each color it has and the markings of the cat.
20. Calico Cats May Hold the Key to Solving the Obesity Problem
Strangely, Calico cats have the potential to solve the obesity epidemic that is causing huge problems in many parts of the world. Not only does obesity increase the risk of developing many other conditions, it is also putting a huge strain on health care organizations.
Dr. Elizabeth Smith from the University of California San Francisco has conducted a study into how genetic traits can be passed down through the generations. Due to their unique genetic makeup, Calico cats played an important role in the research.
Smith specifically looked at the inactivation of the X chromosome and how this can explain the process of epigenetic control. This is how changes in gene activity are inherited without any changes to the DNA code.
Learning more about this will help to answer many more questions about genetics and biology. It could potentially lead scientists to understand how traits such as obesity are passed down through the generations.
They could also provide answers to many other questions scientists have been pondering for years.
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