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Tortoiseshell Cat

Tortoiseshell Color Pattern, Tortie Cat, Calico Cat

Tortoiseshell Cat, Tortoiseshell Color PatternPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Justin Brough
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A mixed breed.  Anonymous

Tortoiseshell Cats have a beautiful tapestry of wonderful interweaving colors!

The Tortoiseshell Cat is referred to as a Tri-Color cat, though in reality this is not quite true. The defining feature of the classic tortoiseshell coat pattern is its color combination. This combination looks like black, red, and cream colored hairs. Although it appears to be three colors, in reality it consists of black areas and orange tabby areas. Since the orange tabby areas are two-toned, it creates the appearance of a three-toned cat.

Tortoiseshell coat colors can include red, brown, chocolate toned brown, black, cinnamon, or cream. The tortoise shell pattern ranges form patches of color to a fine speckled patterning. The name "Tortoiseshell Cat" generally refers to those with an overall brindle coat, having very few or no white markings. They generally have numerous flecks of color that soften or nearly eliminate any clear boundaries between color sections.

The Tortie Cat is a interesting variation of the Tortoiseshell cat. These tortoiseshell color patterns have a mix of the tortoiseshell colors intertwined with a Tabby Cat patterning throughout. The Calico Cat, another very beautiful cat, is also a tortoiseshell. These are mostly white, but with red and brown patches. They differ from the Tortie Cat in that the colors are solid blocks, but like the Tortie, the coat pattern can also include blocks with tabby markings. Cats with these types of coat markings are called a Calico Cat in the United States and a Tortoiseshell and White Cat in the United Kingdom.

For more information on different types of cats, see:
Types of Cats and Cat Breeds

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Tortoiseshell Cat History

The factual history of the tortoiseshell coat pattern is not a glamorous one. The tortoiseshell pattern simply arose due to a combination of genetic traits, which is discussed below. However, there is some folklore the Khmers of Southeast Asia offer one interesting explanation. According to their folklore, the first tortoiseshell arose from the menstrual blood of a young goddess born of a lotus flower during a magical ritual.

There is also other interesting folklore concerning the tortoiseshell include the following:

  • The Celts considered it a good omen if a male tortoiseshell stayed in their home.
  • The English believed that warts could be healed if rubbed by the tail of a male tortoiseshell's tail during May.
  • Japanese fishermen believed that male tortoiseshells protected the vessel from ghosts and storms.
  • Some others believed that having a tortoiseshell in one's dream gives that person luck in love.

Tortoiseshell Cat Genetics

Many people mistakenly believe that all Tortoiseshells are female. While most Tortoiseshells are female, it is possible to find a male with the tortoiseshell pattern.

Gender genetics of tortoiseshell Cats:

  • Female Tortoiseshell Cats
    The reason that most Tortoiseshells are female is because both of the genes that produce this pattern are contained on the same part of the X chromosome. The red gene must be on one X chromosome and the non-red gene on the other. Since typical females have two X chromosomes and typical males have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, it is obvious why this pattern is rarely seen in males.
  • Male Tortoiseshell Cats
    Most males can only have the red gene or the non-red gene, but not both. The resulting product is a solid red tabby or a solid black cat, rather than the combination of the two that comprises the tortoiseshell pattern. However, as mentioned earlier, not all Tortoiseshells are female. This occurrence is made possible by the fact that some males have two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome (XXY).

The genetic difference that causes a male is rare, and is caused by a genetic error. It also results in a more feminine male cat. As a result, male Tortoiseshells are often less territorial or interested in females than typical males. They are also sterile. The rarity of the Tortoiseshell male may be the reason that so much folklore deeming them as good-luck charms exists.

Tortoiseshell Cat Markings

Tortoiseshell cat marking can range from color patches to fine color speckles. Coat colors can include red, black, dark and/or chocolate browns, cream and cinnamon. The term Tortoiseshell Cat is most commonly used to reference the tortoiseshell pattern that is an overall brindle coat with very few or no white markings. It has many flecks of color that effectively soften or nearly eliminate any clear boundaries between color patches. There are several basic variations of the tortoiseshell coat pattern that can be described as follows:

Tortoiseshell color pattern - without white markings:

  • Tortie Cat
    The Tortie is a combination of the tortoiseshell and tabby coat patterns. Torties have random patches of red, black, and cream. In this variation, the black sections are replaced by a dark tabby pattern and the patches can be mingled or more distinct. Another name used to describe this tortoiseshell color pattern is Tortie-tabby Cat.
  • Dilute Tortie Cat
    Blue Torties are randomly patched in blue and cream, giving them a more pastel coloration. Other names for this color pattern are Blue-cream Tortie and Blue Tortie.
  • Brown Patched Tabby, also known as the Torbie Cat
    This type of tortoiseshell has the tabby pattern in patches of brown and red.
  • Blue Patched Tabby
    Similar to the Blue Tortie, the Blue Patched Tabby has patches that are blue and cream but with the tabby pattern..

Tortoiseshell pattern - with white markings:

  • Calico Cat
    The Calico Cat is essentially is a tortoiseshell coat pattern with added white sections. They are white, but with red and brown patches. They differ from the Tortie Cat in that the black patches are solid, but like the Tortie, the coat pattern can also include tabby markings in the red patches. These types of cats are called the Tortoiseshell and White Cat in the United Kingdom and Calico Cat in the United States.
  • Dilute Calico Cat
    Like the Calico, the Dilute Calico is mostly white, but with colored patches of blue and cream. The blue patches are solid while the cream patches have the tabby markings.
  • Caliby Cat
    This version has a large amount of white but with larger distinct patches of color. Other names for this color pattern are Patterned Calico Cat, Calico Tabby Cat, Torbie and White Cat, Patched Tabby and White Cat

Tortoiseshell color pattern names:

The tortoiseshell pattern comes in many different color combinations... described by as many different names. These names include:: Blue Tortoiseshell, Chestnut Tortoiseshell, Chinchilla Shaded Tortoiseshell, Chocolate Tortoiseshell, Chocolate Tortoiseshell Point, Chocolate Tortoiseshell Lynx Point, Chocolate Tortoiseshell Shaded, Chocolate Tortoiseshell Smoke, Cinnamon Tortoiseshell, Cinnamon Tortoiseshell Smoke, Dilute Tortoiseshell, Dilute Chinchilla Shaded Tortoiseshell, Dilute Shaded Tortoiseshell, Ebony Tortoiseshell, Lilac Tortoiseshell, Seal Tortoiseshell, Shaded Tortoiseshell, Shell Tortoiseshell, Smoke Tortoiseshell, Tortoiseshell Point, Tortoiseshell Lynx Point, and Tortoiseshell and White (Calico).

Tortoiseshell Color Pattern Cat Breeds

Though the Tortoiseshell Cat is often mistaken as a breed, it is not a breed, but a coat pattern. However, the Tortoiseshell coat markings are accepted in many different breeds.

Domestic cat breeds that can exhibit tortoiseshell coat markings include:

Exotic Cats, those that are wild cat species, are not generally described with a tortoiseshell coat pattern. There is one exception suggested in early piece of literature entitled "A Tortoise-shell Wild Cat" by William H. Ballou, 1897. The Tortoiseshell Wildcat Felis Bracatta was said to inhabit the jungles of southern Brazil, but today there is no living example of this species.


Author: Ruth Bratcher
Lastest Animal Stories on Tortoise Shell Cats

Anonymous - 2014-09-03
A mixed breed.

Donna - 2014-07-15
When my kittens were found everyone assumed they were brother and sister. My Mercy was a Tortoise Shell. The other cat I believe was a Calico. They mated and had a litter. I believe I am a victim of a prank. When my former so called friends and certain relative that married into a family that married relatives. They were trying to make me eat my words. I gave the whole family away. These evil people were looking for any negative thing on me. They believe I favord my tabby mostly white. I knew my Mercy was a beautiful cat that acted lady like. Her manners were beautiful. She got the boot because we all assume she mated with her brother. PLEASE tell me Tortoise SHell cats are a different breed. How do I get my baby back.

  • Jordan - 2014-08-22
    The likely hood of your baby mating with the brother from another litter is very possible, but unlike humans, a cat's first imbred litter will have no ill effects. Torties are made by mating a black (variation of markings) cat and an orange(variation of markings) cat together. They are in no sort a different breed from a calico, the pattern in which the fur lays is the only difference.
Donna - 2014-07-15
I believe a prank was played on me. A man in the park said his big dog would eat these two kittens. People I know believe I need more responsibility. Well two little kitties were rescued by me ready or not. They are three years old. Mercy a beautiful girl that was very girly and a Tortoise Shell. She was born with a cross on her forehead. When she was found everyone believe and I that she got pregnant by her brother. Well I gave the whole family away. I went back for her. I was told she came down with the ringworms. I said get my girl well and spay her. Too many misunderstandings. She was adopted out my heart went too. She is my daughter that was smart and God fearing. She gave birth too young but wanted my assurance. My cats taught me well. I cry some times. I understand she has a good home. I hope she never forgets me. Her broo was six and one died. The shelter gave me the boy back. They said he isn't social like me. Mercy personality showed that she had charisma and class. My gem got away. She shined like diamonds. Life is the best teacher. My baby is gone. She experienced too much to fast. I love you girl. May Jesus richly bless you. I am sorry that I let you get away. Bread of Heaven shine on my Mercy girl. Pray that I will see her again.

Kimberly - 2013-03-10
I have a Tortie from a rescue shelter, maybe 3 years old. She has taken to me quite well and has no desire to explore the apartment. She has claimed a fake fur blanket as 'her space' at the foot of my bed. She tries to be vocal with me as if we have our own private conversations. She used her food dishes and litter box without incident until we added another rescue cat to our family. She refuses to eat out of the same dishes or use the same litter box anymore, she won't even leave her blanket or her bed, growls, hisses and postures towards the happy go lucky kitty (less than a year old). Anyone know if this is the way it's going to be or if time might smooth things out? My Tortie, black and variegated tan, named Peka, seems rather possessive of me and behaves as a no nonsense, 'I Own the left side of the bed and my person'. I know a lot of this is still primary posturing as Peka has been here a month and the silly kitty has been here only a few days...they are both female, Peka is spayed and comes from a violent history, I'm sure trust will take time. Any advice out there?

  • Jasmine Brough Hinesley - 2013-03-10
    I have had so many cats and introduced so many cats of different ages to each other. I would definitely say give it some time. As your one cat is an adult, she may need more time to become 'friends' or at the very least tolerate your new, younger cat. Sometimes they will become best of friends and start hanging out together. I would guess that your worst case scenario would be that they may not be friends, but they will probably learn to live with each other from a distance. I would give them separate food, water and litter boxes so that they feel like they have their own space. And see how things go from there.
  • diane - 2013-06-27
    Hi, I too adopted a tortie from a shelter, 4 yrs old, and she acclimated very quickly. She is very vocal (in a talkative way) so I named her squeaks. I also adopted another kitty, 1 yr tabby, that we picked up a week later because she was getting spayed. Squeaks does not get along with tabby kitty and attacks whenever she sees her. Although we have only had both for 2-3 weeks, I have been finding it difficult to figure out what to do as the tabby will hide for an entire day unless I find her. What I am trying now is keeping Squeaks in my room during the day and let the tabby roam the house to bond and get used to her new home without the fear of attack. I let Squeaks out at 5pm until bed and keep the tabby in the tv room with the door closed. I have not had any luck finding good info inline except the dreaded spray bottle when she attacks. I hope things change too as both kitties are great. Squeaks is such a love and very affectionate so I don't know why she has to attack the other kitty.
  • Shakespeare - 2013-10-03
    Just got a female tortie from rescue at pet smart. Her name is Juliet.. Juls for short..was told they don't get along with other cats which is cool for me because I live in an apt and it's just her and I. She is very affectionate.. Always in my lap.. On my bed.. A real joy I keep her litter clean and use pro plan cat food which she likes... Every once in a while then as a treat I will give her moist cat food.. Mayb once a week like Sunday. Also I love her color.. Very different
  • Stuart - 2014-01-17
    Mine is a question. We have a gray/black striped kitten and we're going to look at a tortie kitten at the shelter. My question is are tortie's difficult around other cats. I love my striped kitten and she needs a buddy and this tortie is female and after reading all of yall's comments I'm rethinking that maybe I should stay away from this type of breed. We're redoing a old Victorian house and I don't need a cat who thinks she owns the place and starts creating havoc everywhere and then doesn't want to be friends with our kitten. Can someone comment if things got better?
  • Meha Valdez - 2014-01-26
    Both of my kittens were freaks before I adopted them. My first one is a pure black that I rescued along with his two brothers that later became adopted. Onyx without his brothers became very needy and lonely and one day at Petsmart I saw Giselle. A beautiful tortie around the same age. I fell in love and brought her home. (They were both 4 months old.) At first she was very afraid always hiding hissing and fighting whenever Onyx tried to play. But Onyx wanted a friend so he never gave up on her and within about 2 weeks they were best friends. Its taken her much longer to get accustomed to humans then our cat. But now after about a month and a half she sleeps on my bed and forces physical attention. So yes there are good endings!!!

  • Meha Valdez - 2014-01-26
    Feral not freak*
  • Anonymous - 2014-07-04
    Not a lot of people want to deal with feral cats so I think it's wonderful you gave them a chance. I used to have a feral cat and loved him just as much as the other one. I wouldn't have my tortie now if I hadn't found her starving and only 6 weeks old. Now I don't know what I would ever do without her.
Kelly - 2010-06-24
I have 3 two year old tortie's they are all sisters. I love these cats they all have different personalities but all loving. My husband and daughter have developed a cat allergy. I have tried to pretend it wasn't so, but living in Jupiter, Florida with their summer coats falling off every day I can't hide the fact that I have to do something about it. I can't bring them to a shelter, I love them too much. I have to find someone that will love them and appreciate the loving, loyal, and funny cats they have grown to become. I need help, anyone know anyone that might want to love these wonderful cats?