Black Calico Cats, Oh My!

Some say calico cats are good luck, but black cats get a bad reputation. Here are the facts about this mystery cat.

What is a calico cat?

A calico cat is a domestic cat with a tri-color coat. The calico is commonly 25 percent to 75 percent white with orange and black patches. While white is the most common color in a calico, a calico cat does not require white to be the largest to qualify.

black and red calico cat

Some mix the calico with the tortoiseshell, which has a coat of black and orange with few or no white markings.

Calico cat vs tortie cat
Calico cat on the left, tortoiseshell cat on the right

Outside North America, “calico” is called “tortoiseshell and white.” Sometimes a calico coloration combined with a tabby pattern is known as a “caliby.”

What is a black calico cat?

There is not a calico “breed.” Calico refers to the pattern of the kitten’s fur. However, a “black calico” is not entirely black!

The “black genes” combine with the “dilution” gene to create calicos called muted calicos! These “black calicos” are also known as “blue” or “blue-black.” Not surprisingly, this cannot be very clear.

Many believe tortoiseshell cats are a version of calico cats. However, torties are known for their mottled spotting (with no white spots) versus the white spotting of the calico.

The colors of calicos can include black, brown, gray, and more, as shown below:

Black Calico Cats

Partial breadloaf in a calico cat

Gray Calico Cats

What is a grey calico cat?

Brown Calico Cats

Brown, red and white calico cat

The genetics of a black calico cat 

When a kitten is conceived, it receives half of its DNA from the mother and the father.  The X and Y chromosomes determine whether the kitten is male or female. Females inherit two X chromosomes, and males inherit one X and one Y chromosome.

A female ends up with two X chromosomes. However, early in development, cells “switch off” in one of the X chromosomes randomly. This inactivation remains when cells divide. About half of the cells are from the father’s X chromosome and a half from the mother’s.

Usually, X inactivation isn’t visible. In calicos, the cat inherits different color alleles (alternate forms of a gene) from each parent. Some hairs will display the color from the father, and others will display the color inherited from the mother, producing the characteristic calico or tortie pattern.

Additionally, calico cats have genes that create white spotting. These mix together to create the unique look of calicos: three colors.

Is every calico cat female?

Almost every calico cat is female due to the genetics associated with fur patterns. However, 1 in 3000 calicos is male.

A fetus’s normal development requires one set of DNA from the mom and one from the dad. In rare cases, a cat is born with three sets of DNA– two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome.

These cats are technically male due to the presence of the Y chromosome, but because of two X chromosomes, they can present the calico fur pattern.

The extra chromosome set is called Klinefelter syndrome.

Cats with Klinefelter syndrome may experience cognitive issues, behavioral issues, reduced bone strength, and higher body fat content. Additionally, these cats are often sterile.

How common are black calicos? What breed are more likely to be black calicos?

Calico cats are pretty common! Since males and females of different colors can pass genes to the next generation, these color patterns have no shortage. However, muted calicos happen about one out of a thousand felines.

Furthermore, black calicos are not limited to a particular breed. The most common calico cats are American shorthairs or mixed breeds.

Certain breeds with pedigree requirements do not accept calicos into the fold. These include the Siamese and Himalayan. However, the Persian, Maine Coon, and Japanese Bobtails allow the tri-colored fur to be registered.

What is the personality of a black calico?

The personality trait most associated with calicos is attitude. These cats are known to be sassy, spunky, loving, and very vocal. These kittens are not scared to tell you what they need or want!

If you’re looking for a best friend who happens to be very demanding, this is the cat for you! They are certainly larger than life.

Do black calicos have specific health issues or needs? 

Appetite

Many factors affect your cat’s appetite. Food is not a one-size-fits-all thing, which can be frustrating. It takes trial and error to find something that works for you. Luckily, calicos don’t have any special diet needs.

Ensure your kitten is getting proper nutrients as they require more energy. Additionally, larger breeds have a higher appetite. For appropriate food amounts, contact your veterinarian.

Health Problems

The longevity of the calico is the same as any other cat: around fifteen years. However, every cat is different, and it can depend.

These friends are not known for specific health issues but have the same prevalence as other breeds or fur patterns. There are particular health issues associated with Klinefelter Syndrome for male calicos.

If you’re concerned, a pet insurance plan can come in handy to cover any unexpected medical expenses.

Brushing

Your kitten works hard to ensure they are clean and bathed every day. Most cats spend between 30 to 50 percent of their day grooming themselves.

If your calico comes as a long-hair, brushing becomes a vital habit to prevent mats and tangles.

Size

The size of the calico cats depends on the breed more than anything. Cats can range between 7 to 12 pounds. However, larger breeds such as the Maine Coon can grow much larger.

Are calico cats considered lucky?

Calicos are called “money cats” in the United States. Despite believing that black cats are unlucky, these multi-colored beauties are the opposite. Additionally, other countries consider them to be good luck charms.

In Japan, calicos are believed to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. They were kept on boats to protect fishermen and other workers near the water.

Interesting facts

  • Venus the two-faced cat is a black calico cat with over 2 million Instagram followers – one of the most famous cats in the world.

  • There is a black calico cat named Tama who was the station master for the Kishi Station in Japan. Her main job was to meet passengers. She wore a hat and neck badge! The DailyMail reportedThe tiny municipality became an overnight tourist destination. Visitors from across the country have been flocking to the provincial town just to take a picture with Tama.
  • The calico or white tortoiseshell cat became the official state cat of Maryland in October 2021.
  • While most male calicos or torties are sterile, they do exist.
  • Torties or calicos can be either long-haired or short-haired.
  • You can manipulate the color of kittens by breeding using the pattern and colors of the parents. Red males will often have kittens with a red color.
  • Calico kittens can appear to be one color but have color variation in less visible areas, such as the back of the neck.

What are some name ideas for a black calico?

No matter what name you choose for your kitten, it’s an important decision. It’s what you’ll be calling them for the next ten to fifteen years! If you’re feeling stuck, here are some ideas.

  • Autumn- this combines the Halloween, and beautiful fall leaves feeling
  • Picasso- this captures the style of Picasso’s paintings
  • Marble- the swirling pattern is reminiscent of a Tortie’s pattern
  • Alani- this Hawaiian name means “precious” or “orange tree”
  • Kali- this Sanskrit name means “black”
  • Lilith- this name means “ghost” or “belonging to the night”
  • Lela- this Kishwahili name means “black beauty”
  • Sable- this means “the black one”
  • Ivory- a name meaning “pale” or “white”
  • Sienna- a name meaning “reddish-brown”

Author

  • Elizabeth Lasley

    Elizabeth is an animal lover who is owned by three cats: Vivan, Burr, and Puck. Her passion for writing started in the 9th grade when she began writing her novel. She hasn't stopped since.