For the past four years, I have lived with a calico cat named Phoenix. She is an endlessly strange and fascinating creature who is equal parts outgoing and skittish, needy and aloof, opinionated and reluctant, bossy and unsure. She is a walking contradiction — and I love her dearly.
When I sing the oldies, she sings along. When I talk to her, she talks back. Every morning, we discuss current events, i.e., the status of the food in her dish and why there is not more of it. “Because the vet says you’re too fat,” I say, to which she responds by licking my granola bar.
Turns out, the beautiful strangeness of calico cats is hardly limited to my little Fifi girl (one of her approximately 800 nicknames). Here are five fun facts about our beloved tricolor kitties.
1. Calico cats are almost always female
Calico is not a breed of cat but a color pattern. To be considered a “true” calico, a cat’s coat must display the colors white, black, and orange (or muted versions of these colors). Calicos are almost always female because coat color is linked to genetics, and black and orange fur are each linked to the X chromosome. (White fur is coded by another gene.) Therefore, because female cats have two X chromosomes, they can display both colors at once. Male cats, meanwhile, typically have only one X chromosome, so they tend to be either orange OR black.
Fifi certainly fits the bill of a calico. She’s a lovely lady who proudly wears her true colors.
2. They are good luck
According to folklore, calico cats are lucky. Back in the day, Japanese sailors traveled with calicos to ensure a safe voyage and protect their ships from harm. In England and the United States, male calicos are considered especially lucky thanks to their rarity. In the U.S., they are sometimes called “money cats,” due to the mistaken belief that they can be sold for top dollar. In actuality, male calicos are almost always sterile, making them of no use to the breeders who might wish to purchase them.
Also, maneki neko, the Japanese talisman frequently seen in shops and restaurants, is almost always a calico. Maneki neko is sometimes called the fortune cat in English. Pay attention to her paws: A raised left paw is said to bring in customers, while the right paw bestows good luck and wealth. Also, the higher the paw is raised, the luckier you’re gonna get.
Fifi is certainly lucky — at least in my book. She sleeps under the covers and keeps my toes warm in the wintertime. That makes me feel very fortunate indeed.
3. What about tortoiseshell cats?
They are similar to calicos, but not the same. Tortoiseshell cats are also predominantly female, having black and orange coloring. But while calicos are often mostly white, torties have a brindled coat coloring and almost no white markings. Like calicos, they can be feistier and more talkative than the average kitty and are often said to possess a personaltiy trait known as “tortitude.” Kitties with tortitude are allegedly strong-willed, independent, temperamental, talkative, and demanding.
And, yeah — that describes my Phoenix. Does it describe your calico or tortie?
Bonus awesome mashups: Tortoiseshell + tabby = torbie; calico + tabby = caliby.
4. Male calicos are almost always sterile
Approximately one in 3,000 calicos is male, and only one in 10,000 of those males is fertile. For a male cat to display the calico colors, he must have two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome (XXY). A similar condition called Klinefelter’s syndrome, or XXY syndrome, is found in humans.
5. Calicos are the official state cat of Maryland
Thanks to the similarity of their coloring to the Baltimore oriole, the state bird, and the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly, the state insect, calicos were granted the lofty title of Official Cat of Maryland on Oct. 1, 2001.
During their 11-year stint in power, calico cats have demanded scheduled nap times in the workplace and more access to expansive sun puddles. They have also sought to deregulate the fishing industry. As of this article, they’re still working on it.