Myths and Facts About Male Calico Cats

Calico cat looking out at the world

Cat owners and enthusiasts have heard a number of fascinating myths about male calico cats. While they are relatively rare, with an estimated one male in three thousand calico cat births, there is no extraordinary demand for them. They do not make good breeding studs because almost all male calicos are sterile. In fact, only about one in ten thousand male calicos is fertile.

What Is a Calico Cat?

Some people have the misconception that calico cats comprise a specific cat breed. However, calico is the description of a cat's coloration. Cats of many breeds can be a calico, or true tricolor, as a result of their genetic heritage. Unlike cats with tortoiseshell coloring, the coats of calico cats are of three distinct colors - red, black and white, or a variation of those colors. The red variation can be orange or an orange-tinted cream sometimes called "ginger". The second color is always white with no variations. The required black variation can also be blue (blue-gray), brown or chocolate, lilac (a pale, rosy beige), reddish brown (cinnamon) or a pale, buff color (fawn). Black and blue are the most common variations of the black gene.

Why Is a Male Calico Cat Rare?

Male calicos are a genetic anomaly. Cats, like humans, have two sex chromosomes. Chromosomes carry genes and determine an animal's traits. The required red color for a calico cat is passed only on a female (X) chromosome. How then can a male cat inherit the red colored required for a calico cat?

To put it simply, two chromosomes determine gender. Each parent contributes one chromosome to the offspring. The mother, who has only X chromosomes, always contributes an X chromosome. The father, who has both X and Y chromosomes, can contribute either an X or a Y chromosome to his offspring. Thus, it is the father who determines the sexes of his kittens. The red color gene cannot be passed to a male offspring due to unusual characteristics of the gene in question. Under certain conditions, when the red genes are passed to a female offspring, she displays not the expected red or orange coat, but the tricolor coat of a true calico cat.

How then can a male be a true calico? Sometimes there is an incomplete division of the chromosome pair when the chromosomes are separating at the time of fertilization. When that happens, the incomplete chromosome ends up attached to another of the two required chromosomes, giving the offspring one of the following combinations:

  • XX + Y = XXY
  • XY + X = XXY

In both cases, the result is a male cat who can inherit the trait for a true calico coat.

A male calico usually cannot sire offspring because the genetics described above almost always guarantees that he will be sterile.

Do Male Calico Cats Bring a High Price?

One might suppose that male calicos would bring a high price among breeders and cat fanciers because of their rarity. While they are an interesting phenomenon in the cat world, they are of little interest because of their inability to reproduce. Thus, calico cats simply become house pets whose value is in their dispositions rather than in the color of their coats. Although most male calicos are sterile, it is a good idea to neuter them to deter spraying and other unwelcome male behaviors. Despite their limitations, they are still boys at heart!

Which Breed Is a Male Calico?

As mentioned earlier, male calico cats have distinctive tricolor coats, but they are not a separate breed. In fact, as many as 16 different cat breeds can have calico coloration, and male calicos can occur among any of those breeds. Some of the more common breeds that may have calico coloration are:

Male calico cats are the offspring of parents that represent many breeds. While female calico cats are quite common, true male calicos are rare and of particular interest for their unique coloration.

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Myths and Facts About Male Calico Cats