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Tortoiseshell Cat vs Calico Cat: Coat Patterns Explained

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Tortoiseshell vs Calico Cat

The tortoiseshell and calico are not two different breeds of cats, they are simply the names of different coat patterns. House cats come in a variety of breeds and appearances, so it is common for two cats of the same breed to look completely different because of their different coat patterns, such as with the tortoiseshell and calico.

While tortoiseshell and calico patterns have similarities, they are two completely different patterns. But just how different are these two patterns? Do their appearances go beyond their appearance? What breeds of cat have these patterns? Read on to find out!

Visual Differences

Tortoiseshell Cat vs Calico Cat side by side
Image Credit: (L) PeakPx | (R) dmgreen44, Pixabay

At a Glance

Tortoiseshell Cat
  • Average height (adult): 8–10 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 5–12 pounds
  • Lifespan: 12–16 years
  • Grooming needs: Low to high
  • Number of Colors in Pattern: Two colors
  • Colors Present in Pattern: Black, red or ginger red, tan, orange, brown
  • Amount of White in Pattern: Little to no white patches
  • Female: 9% female
  • Male: Always sterile
  • Personality: Stubborn, hot-tempered, affectionate, “tortitude”

Calico Cat
  • Average height (adult): 8–10 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 5–12 pounds
  • Lifespan: 12–16 years
  • Grooming needs: Low to high
  • Number of Colors in Pattern: At least three colors
  • Colors Present in Pattern: White, orange, black, tan, red, grey, brown
  • Amount of White in Pattern: 25% to 75% white in coat
  • Female: 9% female
  • Male: Always sterile
  • Personality: Sassy, sweet, gentle, quirky

Tortoiseshell Cat Overview

british fold tortoiseshell cat on a tree stump
Image Credit: Denys R, Shutterstock


The tortoiseshell is a bicolor coat pattern with two colors that can include black and brown, red, tan, or orange. The two colors in the tortoiseshell are beautifully blended together, giving it a marbled effect. Many torties, as they are affectionately nicknamed, also have a perfect split of the two colors on their face, giving them a “chimera-like” appearance that matches their personality.

While most tortoiseshells generally have a dark coat, some torties can have small patches of white that are too minimal to fit the criteria for a calico. In these cases, they are sometimes given the nickname of “torticos”!

Toirtoiseshell cats are highly prized for their stunning appearance and are often associated with good luck!


Tortoiseshell cats are known for being affectionate, but can also have a hot-temper and stubborn reputation. Torties have a distinct personality known as “tortitude”, as characterized by their strong, feisty, and independent personalities. Torties are also known to be less tolerant and are more likely to show aggressive behaviors if they feel threatened.

Despite this reputation, tortoiseshell cats can also be loving, sociable, and playful cats. Tortoiseshell cats generally exhibit the personality and temperament of their cat breed, and the tortitude temperament is simply an association by many pet owners’ reports.

tortoiseshell cat
Image Credit: IMG Stock Studio, Shutterstock


The tortoiseshell is an X-linked gene, meaning two copies of the gene are required to manifest the tortoiseshell pattern in a cat. As males only have one X chromosome, most torties are female.

Male tortoiseshells do exist but are extremely rare and are always sterile. These males have two X chromosomes known as Klinefelter Syndrome. Due to their rarity, male torties are heavily sought after and may cost a small fortune.

Suitable for:

While the tortoiseshell cats generally have the personality, grooming requirements, and other characteristics of their specific cat breed, the tortitude personality may not be suitable for families with small children or other pets. Torties have a strong personality with a very low tolerance, which can be dangerous for those who may easily cross their boundaries.

Calico Cat Overview

calico maine coon cat lying on the grass
Image Credit: Aleksei Verhovski, Shutterstock


Calico cats have a tri-colored coat compared to the bi-colored tortoiseshell. Calico coats consist of three colors. These colors are commonly white, black, and orange, which are more recognizable than the blended tortoiseshell pattern.

Calicos have white in their mix that consists of 25% to 75% of their coat, with vivid patches of solid black and orange. Other colors that can be included in the tri-color pattern are brown, tan, cream, red, and grey.

Each calico colorway is extremely unique, with no two calicos having the same color combination and pattern.


Calicos are a common coat pattern among cat breeds as they can manifest in almost all breeds of cat. Because of this, determining a calico’s personality can be unpredictable. They can exhibit a range from a stubborn and feisty attitude (similar to that of a tortie), to a gentle, loving, and more relaxed personality. Most calicos are affectionate and get along great with their humans and other pets.

Calico personalities are taken from their own specific breed, but most calicos are seen as quirky, energetic, and sociable cats.

calico cat rolling in the dirt
Image Credit: Cathleen Wake Gorbatenko, Shutterstock


Just like the tortoiseshell, the calico color pattern is X-linked and is more common among females. All male calicos have Klinefelter syndrome with an extra X chromosome, making them extremely rare and always sterile.

Calicos are known to be a spontaneous phenomenon. Because of the presence of various pigment genes in their genetic make-up, it is near impossible to breed an all-calico litter. Calico parents can also produce all kinds of colors and combinations in a litter, making their offspring’s appearances unpredictable.

List of Cat Breeds With the Calico Pattern

Suitable for:

While it can vary depending on the calico cat’s specific breed, the general notion of a calico’s personality makes them suitable for families with children and other pets. They are more sociable and tolerable than the tortie, and have a sweet, loving, and playful personality.

Differentiating the Tortoiseshell and Calico Coat

The biggest difference to look out for between a tortoiseshell and calico cat is the amount of white present on their coat. Calicos have 25% to 75% of solid white on their coat, while tortoiseshell coats have little to no white patches at all. The absence of white in a tortoiseshell coat gives it a darker shade compared to the brighter calico.

The colors in a calico coat are also more solid and less blended, making it easier to determine the colors present on their coat. The tortoiseshell, on the other hand, has more blended swirls patches throughout their coat, giving the coat a beautiful, marbled effect.

Which Coat Pattern Is Right for You?

Based on appearance, both the tortoiseshell and calico coats have beautiful color combinations and patterns. The darker tortoiseshell gives the cat a more eerie, mysterious look with their marbled coat and chimera-like facial appearance. The brighter calico has a brighter coat with more solid patches and swirls of white, black, and orange.

Both the tortie and calico’s personality heavily depend on their specific breed of cat. But following the personalities associated with their coat patterns, the tortie’s tortitude personality gives them a stronger and feistier personality that matches their dark appearance, while the bright coated calicos are generally more gentle and relaxed.

While both cats are beautiful and have unique personalities, it is also important to consider the breed of cat that is sporting either the tortoiseshell or calico pattern before choosing your new furry feline!

Featured Image Credit: Jumpstory

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