Calico vs Tortoiseshell Cats: How Are They Different?

Last Updated on: November 17, 2022 by Crystal Uys

Calico vs Tortoiseshell cats

Calico and tortoiseshell kitties both have a striking appearance, thanks to their lovely combination of colors and unique markings. Many people don’t realize there is a difference between the two, though. Some people may not even realize that tortoiseshell is a type of cat but instead think that every cat with orange patches is a calico.

It’s also not common to realize there are differences in personality between these two kitty colors. People who own tortoiseshell cats will tell you all about “tortitude”, and calico cats also have a temperamental reputation. There are definitely distinct differences in both appearance and temperament with these two coat colors.

Visual Differences: At a Glance

calico vs tortoiseshell
Image Credit: Left – Calico Cat (Kristi Blokhin, Shutterstock); Right – Tortoiseshell Cat (andy-holmes, Unsplash}

Calico Cats

  • Average height (adult): 8–10 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 5–12 pounds
  • Lifespan: 12–16 years
  • Exercise: Moderate
  • Grooming needs: Low to high
  • Family-friendly: Often
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Temperament: Sweet, independent, quirky

Tortoiseshell Cats

  • Average height (adult): 8–10 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 5–12 pounds
  • Lifespan: 12–16 years
  • Exercise: Moderate to high
  • Grooming needs: Low to high
  • Family-friendly: Sometimes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Feisty, affectionate, hot-tempered

Calico Cat Overview

calico cat staring at the camera
Image Credit: dmgreen22, Pixabay


The appearance of a calico cat is determined by the colors of its coat, not its breed. Almost all cat breeds can have the potential for calicos. The calico coat consists of three colors, which are usually primarily white with accents of black and orange. Muted calicos are primarily white with accents of blue and cream. Calicos can also have red, brown, or tan in their coat, but they are always tricolor cats. White usually accounts for 25–75% of the coat of calicos.


Calico cats can have any temperament due to their ability to be from any breed. However, they are generally known for being loving and affectionate cats that show a great deal of loyalty, especially for one chosen person. Most people consider them quirky and energetic, but these traits can also translate into neurotic behaviors sometimes.

The Calico Gene

You may have heard that all calico cats are females, and while this isn’t entirely true, it’s almost always true. Male calicos are exceptionally rare. This is because the gene that causes calico coats is linked to the X chromosome, but two copies of this gene are needed to create calico.

Since males only have one X chromosome, they are usually not affected by this gene, although they can carry it. This means that male calico cats have an extra chromosome, bringing them to XXY instead of XY. This is a genetic abnormality that, in humans, is called Klinefelter’s Syndrome. In some cats, this may not cause any problems, but some cats may show symptoms of this condition, like behavioral problems, obesity, and an increased risk of conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Suitable for:

It varies significantly between cats, but calicos are typically well suited for homes with children and other pets. They are usually sweet and affectionate cats that are loving toward their people, although they can be very independent cats as well. Make sure to provide your calico plenty of hiding places away from children and other pets so they can recharge.

Tortoiseshell Cat Overview

Tortoiseshell Norwegian Forest Cat
Image Credit: Nui Rattapon, Shutterstock


Tortoiseshell cats are often confused with calicos, but they are distinctly different in appearance. These cats are usually bicolor, with their two colors being black and brown, tan, or orange. It is possible for the black to show up in a dilute form, appearing as blue or tabby.

Sometimes, a cat will primarily look like a tortoiseshell with small patches of white. This white is usually too minimal to count the cat as a calico, and it is sometimes referred to as tortico. Like the calico, tortoiseshell cats can be from just about any breed.


Like calicos, tortoiseshells are known for their affectionate temperament. However, people who own tortoiseshell cats report them being hot-tempered and more prone to aggressive behaviors than many other cats. They also report “tortitude”, which is a description of the specific types of personality and attitude that the tortoiseshell cats often have.

These cats can be a little bit spicy, often having little tolerance of shenanigans from anyone but themselves. This can extend to children and other pets in the home sometimes. It’s important to distinguish that scientific studies have not shown a connection between a cat’s coat color and their temperament, except in instances where the coat color is directly associated with the cat’s breed. Much of the proof of tortitude is anecdotal, but widespread.

The Tortoiseshell Gene

Like the calico gene, the tortoiseshell gene is X-linked, and two copies of the gene are required to produce a tortoiseshell cat. The vast majority of tortoiseshell cats are female, but male tortoiseshells do exist. This usually means they have an extra X chromosome and have Klinefelter’s Syndrome.

Suitable for:

If you believe in the existence of tortitude, then you may feel like a tortoiseshell cat is not appropriate for families with small children or other pets. Like with most pets, proper introductions and respect of the cat’s boundaries are necessary to create and maintain peace, as well as keeping the cat happy and free of stress.

Sterility and X-Linked Traits

Male cats with an extra X chromosome are almost always sterile and unable to produce offspring. You should never assume that your cat is sterile, though. It’s also important to have your cat neutered, even if your vet believes he is sterile. This is because leaving your cat’s testicles intact increases the risk of testicular cancer and behavioral problems.

Which Cat Is Right For You?

Calicos and tortoiseshell cats have very different temperaments from each other, at least anecdotally speaking. There is no solid evidence of these traits being linked to your cat’s coat color. Some people report calicos with having an attitude much like tortitude, while other tortoiseshell owners report their cats being loving and outgoing.

When choosing a cat, try to choose a cat that seems to have a temperament that will fit your home best. It can be difficult to determine if your cat is still young, though. The best thing you can do, regardless of which coat color you choose to take home, is to ensure your home is set up to reduce your cat’s stress levels, help them feel safe, and provide them with plenty of outlets for energy.

Featured Image Credit: Left (Calico Cat): Linn Currie, Shutterstock, Right (Tortoiseshell Cat): Julieshoots, Pixabay

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