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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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My female tortie is now about 16 years old. She belonged to my brothers former wife since before they married. He was going to take it back to the animal shelter... (more)  Nancy Thorgaard

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

Nancy Thorgaard - 2012-01-16
My female tortie is now about 16 years old. She belonged to my brothers former wife since before they married. He was going to take it back to the animal shelter because the cat made so much noise! At the time I wondered how he could even fathom the idea? Well, I offered to take her instead. This cat, Isis, rarely shuts up! She joins in with human conversations as if she has something important to add. She greets everyone at the door, enthusiastically! We have seen her climb up the back of a step ladder to get into the face of whomever is standing on the ladder and see what was going on. She then lets out a loud, 'RAOWWW'. I wish I could read her mind. But, she won't be held and she never sleeps in our laps. I have heard this is typical. Another tortie owner asked me, 'Does she (Isis) have an attitude?'. I guess certain personality traits go along with that distinctive coat!

  • Charlie Roche - 2012-01-16
    Don't you wish you could read their minds at times. You know they understand all that you say but sometimes they just aren't clear back.
  • Mark O - 2012-02-05
    Sounds awfully familiar! Mojo is about 10 years old, and a tortie with loads of brio and curiosity. I found her when I was looking for an older kitten to live alongside Commanche, our tabby. His sister had gone missing about 6 months before, and we wanted to find a cat that he would accept (he's a grumpy old so and so). I went to a local RSPCA cat rescue, and had gone all the way down the rows and decided the cats there were all too young or old for him to take to - when all of a sudden Mojo uncurled herself from under the older cat she was sharing a basket with, and stood up against the window of her cubicle to see what was going on. We became friends at that instant. When I collected her a week later, she didn't stop crying all the way home - 70 miles! Commanche and her got on fine, and she's been a wonderful cat to live with ever since. She always wants to know what's going on, and comes to help. - The first instance was when I was using an electric breaker in the garden to break up big lumps of concrete. Commanche went and hid, but she wouldn't go away - she watched me from start to finish, just a couple of yards away. She purrs constantly, hunts voraciously and talks to you all the time. The only time there's trouble is the annual inoculations - she climbs up my chest trying to get away from the vet with a 'how could you do this to me AGAIN?' look on her face. I don't see her so often as my partner and I split up a few years ago, but every time I see her we get back together again. Love her to bits.
  • Rebecca - 2012-06-08
    Hi, Nancy. Torties are notoriouse for their 'catitude.' The only reason that my Hekitty gets on my lap now is that her mother died when she was only 5 weeks old, and I took her then. She was eating well enough, but she 'rootled' in the crook of my arm, nuzzing and kneading, since I was the closest thing to 'Mom' she had left. And even after 4 years, I can NOT pick her up without a chase and battle, and I can't HOLD her. She gets in my lap to curl and nap, or to rootle, but she won't tolerate being confined in any way. I don't know if the snits and aloofness are actually linked to the color pattern, but I've heard lots of experienced cat people who seem to think so. And yes, they are VERY talkative, and into everything. Best advice, take it slow. She's a cranky old lady, set in her ways, who has had her whole life turned upside down. When you're sitting down, pat your tummy or legs to invite, and one day, she might just surprise you!
  • Shirley - 2015-11-15
    My tortie Maliyah is now 7 months old. Her mom and dad were rescue kittens. The mom is a beige tabby and the dad was black and white. From the minute she was born she let her brothers and i know she was special. I didn't know anything about tories. She is always so talkative but sometimes runs away still hearing a loud noise. She is very loveable and always grooms her adorable and beautiful.
Amy - 2015-10-27
My tortoise shell had kittens a couple of weeks ago. The father was black. One kitten is black, one has a few tortoise shell markings and one is black except for its face which is tortoise shell. very odd looking. It will be called funny face. If it happens to be male, then it will be dirty face. All are soooo cute.

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.
  • Jenn - 2015-08-20
    Tortoiseshell cats are not a different breed, but if you had a true calico and a true tortoiseshell those colorations are both usually female! It's very rare for either to be male. So the one that was pregnant might have been pregnant already from another cat, sorry to say.
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.

  • Gabriele Wittig - 2015-08-17
    Don't be sad, because maybe she is leaving with me in Munich now. Look... These cats don't live only once. They are sisters born in February in Spain and thrown away. I gave them a new loving home. Maybe that can help You to understand, thar she didn't leave You...

    Greetings from Munich

    Gabi, Zelda and Midna
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?