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Home > Cats > 11 Fascinating Facts about Tortoiseshell Cats You Never Knew

11 Fascinating Facts about Tortoiseshell Cats You Never Knew

tortoiseshell cat sitting

Tortoiseshell cats are cats that have very distinct markings, resembling the shell of a tortoise. They are not of a specific breed, and the tortoiseshell coat can, in fact, be found in any of a number of breeds. However, virtually all tortoiseshells are female and any male torties are usually sterile because of a genetic mutation present in the male tortoiseshell. Although they are said to have “tortitude”, which is the name given to a tortoiseshell’s attitude, the breed and individual characteristics are more likely to govern the traits and characteristics of a cat.

Below are 10 fascinating facts about tortoiseshell cats to help you understand this unique-looking feline.


The Top 11 Fascinating Facts about Tortoiseshell Cats

1. Tortoiseshell Isn’t a Breed

Depending on which cat fancier association you listen to and whether you include hybrids and crossbreeds, there are anywhere from around 50 to several hundred different breeds of cat found around the world. But while people often refer to tortoiseshell cats, or “torties” as they are known for short, as a breed, they aren’t.

It refers to the coat of the cat, which strictly only includes two colors, neither of which can be white. The coat resembles the markings of the shell of a tortoise, hence the name.

The most common color combination is that of ginger-red and black, but other combinations can exist. If the coat has white in it, or there are three distinct colors, it is not really a tortoiseshell, although many are still called torties by their owners.

Tortoiseshell cat resting on a sofa
Image By: David Boutin, Shutterstock

2. Tortoiseshells Can Be Any of a Number of Breeds

Tortoiseshell markings can occur in any of a large number of breeds from Maine Coon to American Shorthair. Moggies, or cats that combine several breeds, can also exhibit tortoiseshell markings. Some breeds, specifically those that must have a certain coat color, cannot be tortoiseshell. At least not in the eyes of cat fancier associations.

3. Only 1 in 3,000 Tortoiseshells are Male

To get the unique combination of two colors in a tortoiseshell coat requires two X chromosomes. Female cats have two X chromosomes, but males have an X and Y chromosome, except in very rare circumstances. Very rarely, a male cat might have two X chromosomes and a Y chromosome, and this can lead to tortoiseshell markings on a male cat. However, this is extremely rare, and it is estimated that only 1 in 3,000 torties, or 0.0003% are male. In most cases, male tortoiseshells are born sterile, which means that they are unable to produce.

tortoiseshell tabby cat prepares to pounce onto something
Image By: SJ Duran, Shutterstock

4. In Ireland, They’re Considered Good Luck

Their unique look means that tortoiseshells, generally, are considered good luck in different parts of the world. In the US, they are called “money cats” and are believed to bring good financial fortune. The rarity of the male tortie means that they are thought of even more highly. In Ireland and Scotland, if a male tortoiseshell stays in the house it is thought to bring good luck. In England, rubbing a male tortoiseshell on warts was said to help combat the warts!

5. In Japan, Tortoiseshells Protect Against Ghosts

In Japan, where cats are considered good luck generally, the tortoiseshell is said to protect ships and keep them safe from storms and wrecks. They are also said to protect against ghosts.

A tortoiseshell cat sitting in Japanese garden at autumn leaves season
Image By: i_moppet, Shutterstock

6. Some Owners Describe Them as Having “Tortitude”

Although studies have proven inconclusive, many owners refer to their tortoiseshells as having “tortitude.” Tortitude is a portmanteau of the words tortoiseshell and attitude and means that the cat is sassy, high-strung, and feisty. It is possible that the genes that lead to the markings may cause higher levels of aggression or other moods, but the individual temperament of the cat is unlikely to really be determined by its coat color.

7. There Are Different Types of Tortoiseshell Coat

Tortoiseshell cats need to combine the two colors to be considered a true tortie, but these don’t always present in the same way. The style of tortoiseshell that most think of is referred to as mosaic, but there are also chimera torties. A chimera tortoiseshell has a different color on one side compared to the other, and this can occur just on the face or the entire body.

Tortoiseshells can also be long-haired or short-haired, their colors can be muted or pronounced, and they can be bridled or patched. Bridled means that the colors appear woven together while patched means that they have large areas of individual colors across the body.

Tortoiseshell cat outdoors
Image By: Chepko Danil Vitalevich, Shutterstock

8. President Regan Had Tortoiseshell Cats

The unique appearance of the tortoiseshell cat means that they have been very popular in film and TV as well as with owners. Edgar Allen Poe had a tortie called Cattarina and President Regan had two, called Cleo and Sarah.

9. Torties Are Sometimes Confused with Calicos

stray calico cat
Image Credit: Michelle Maria, Pixabay

To be a true tortoiseshell, a cat must have just two colors, although there can be variances in those colors, so it appears as though they have three or four colors. The colors cannot include white, and if a cat does have three colors, with one of those colors being white, then it is called a calico because of its resemblance to calico fabric. Because they do share similarities in their coats, tortoiseshells and calicos are often referred to together.

10. Maryland’s State Cat Is a Calico

Only three states in the US have official state cats. Maine has the Maine Coon, adopted in 1985. Massachusetts named the tabby cat the state cat in 1988. The tabby, like the tortoiseshell, is not a breed of cat but refers to its coloring. Maryland is the third state with its own official cat, and it is the Calico so while it isn’t really a tortoiseshell, it is close. The calico was named the official state cat of Maryland in 2001. It was chosen because its colors closely resemble other state symbols including the flag, state bird, and state insect.

11. One Tortie Lived Many Years

A tortie in Australia, who went by the name of Marzipan, lived to the ripe ole age of 21, which is almost unheard of in cats or any companion animal for that matter. Marzipan was found in Melbourne as a stray but quickly took up residence in the Astor Theatre in St. Kilda, where she became popular within the art-deco scene. She even attended movies in the theatre but mainly nestled in moviegoers’ laps and purred. She passed in 2013 from an extended illness.

divider-catFinal Thoughts

Tortoiseshell is a name given to cats that have coats consisting of two colors, typically ginger and black. The coats can be short- or long-haired, and they can be chimera or mosaic. They can also be muted and because of variations in the two colors, some torties can appear to have many different colors in their coat. However, if a cat has three colors including white, they are called calico, and if they have three coat colors that do not include white, they are called calico.

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Featured Image Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald, Shutterstock

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