Any cat guardian will tell you that their feline is the most unique one in the world, and somehow, they're all correct. While cats have many similarities between them, different breeds are known for exhibiting specific behaviors and traits, from their temperaments to their overall size. Some felines, like a tortoiseshell and calico cat, and may be hard to tell apart at first glance, but there are a few notable things that separate the two. If you're unsure whether you're looking at a tortoiseshell or a calico cat, the color of their coats can determine your answer.
Breed specifics of each
One thing to know when attempting to understand calico cats and tortoiseshell, or tortie, cats, is that neither are technically considered to be a feline breed. Rather, the tortoiseshell and calico cat namesake is used to describe the coat color and marking pattern of each. Some breeds of cats do look to these markings as part of their breed standards, like the Maine Coon or Japanese bobtail, which bear a calico coloration. That said, calico and tortie coat patterns have become incredibly distinctive, and some people simply use the terms to refer to the type of cat that they have, regardless of the specific breed.
Tortoiseshell vs. calico
Often confused for one another, calico cats and tortie cats differ for a few reasons, most importantly, the coloration of their coats. Torti cats are seen wearing mottled, multicolored coats often comprised of black, brown, yellow, and reddish hair, and rarely with any white to be seen. Unlike a tortoiseshell, a calico tabby cat is mostly white in color, with patches of additional fur colors found throughout the coat. Common colors found on calico coats in addition to white fur include black and orange, although hues can include grey, reddish-brown, or blue-black patches, according to ASPCA Pet Health Insurance.
Some similarities of the two
While certainly not the same kind of cat, there are some notable similarities between calico cats and tortie cats, one being that nearly all of them are female. According to Feline Living, the dark color pattern seen in tortie cats is delivered via the X chromosome, and the same thing goes for the tri-color fur pattern seen on calico cats. Two of these X chromosomes are needed to produce either of these specific coats, which is why many tortoiseshell and and calico cats are females. On rare occasions, male calico cats are born with an extra X chromosome which can leave them with traditional calico markings, although these cats are known to have health issues, like aortic valve diseases and frail bones.
Additionally, tabby markings are commonly found among both calico and tortie-coated cats. A tortoiseshell or calico tabby cat simply describes a tri-colored cat with traditional tabby cat stripes, and may contain flecks of red or orange fur. Both calicos and tortie cats are known for being incredibly independent and frisky in nature, although calicos are more commonly regarded as friendly while torties are known for their no-nonsense attitudes. Calicos and torties have similar life spans of around 15 years, on average, and are both beloved and common house cats to keep either inside or outdoors.