What Makes Male Calico Cats Unique? Myths vs. Facts

Updated April 6, 2022
Man Stroking a Calisto Cat

Cat owners and enthusiasts have heard a number of fascinating myths about male calico cats. While they are relatively rare, with an estimated one male in 3,000 calico cat births, there is no extraordinary demand for them. They do not make good breeding studs because almost all male calicos are sterile. In fact, only about one in 10,000 male calicos is fertile.

What Is a Calico Cat?

Some people have the misconception that calico kittens and cats comprise a specific cat breed. However, calico is the description of a cat's coloration. Cats of many breeds can be a calico, or true tricolor, as a result of their genetic heritage.

Calisto Kitten

A Calico's Coloring

Unlike cats with tortoiseshell coloring, the coats of calico cats are of three distinct colors - red, black, and white, or a variation of those colors.

  • The red variation can be orange or an orange-tinted cream, sometimes called "ginger."
  • The second color is always white with no variations.
  • The required black variation can also be blue (blue-gray), brown or chocolate, lilac (a pale, rosy beige), reddish-brown (cinnamon), or a pale, buff color (fawn). Black and blue are the most common variations of the black gene.

Why Is a Male Calico Cat Rare?

Male calicos are a genetic anomaly. Cats, like humans, have two sex chromosomes. Chromosomes carry genes and determine an animal's traits. The required red color for a calico cat is passed only on a female (X) chromosome. How, then, can a male cat inherit the red coloring required for a calico cat?

Portrait Of Calico Cat

How Chromosomes Determine Coat Color

To put it simply, two chromosomes determine gender. Each parent contributes one chromosome to the offspring. The mother, who has only X chromosomes, always contributes an X chromosome. The father, who has both X and Y chromosomes, can contribute either an X or a Y chromosome to his offspring. Thus, it is the father who determines the sexes of his kittens. The red color gene cannot be passed to a male offspring due to unusual characteristics of the gene in question. Under certain conditions, when the red genes are passed to a female offspring, she displays not the expected red or orange coat but the tricolor coat of a true calico cat.

Male Calico Cat Genetics

How, then, can a male be a true calico? Sometimes there is an incomplete division of the chromosome pair when the chromosomes are separating at the time of fertilization. When that happens, the incomplete chromosome ends up attached to another of the two required chromosomes, giving the offspring one of the following combinations:

  • XX + Y = XXY
  • XY + X = XXY

In both cases, the result is a male cat who can inherit the trait for a true calico coat. Among humans, this genetic arrangement is called Klinefelter syndrome. A male calico usually cannot sire offspring because the genetics described above almost always guarantee he will be sterile.

Do Male Calico Cats Bring a High Price?

One might suppose that male calicos would bring a high price among breeders because of their rarity. You may even see some websites claiming a purebred male calico cat can fetch a price as high as $1,000 to $2,000. The truth is, while they are an interesting phenomenon, they are of little interest to breeders because they are sterile. It's possible a pet owner might want to pay that amount of money to own a cat that's a rarity, but chances are if you're looking to buy a male calico cat, don't expect to pay much more than you would for any regular unpedigreed house cat.

Neutering Male Calico Cats

Although most male calicos are sterile, it is a good idea to neuter them to deter spraying and other unwelcome male behaviors.

Calico Cat Walking On Field

Which Breed Is a Male Calico?

As mentioned earlier, male calico cats have distinctive tricolor coats, but they are not a separate breed. In fact, as many as 16 different cat breeds can have calico coloration, and male calicos can occur among any of those breeds. Some common breeds that may have calico coloration are:

The Rare Male Calico Cat

Male calico cats are the offspring with a genetic anomaly of parents representing many possible cat breeds. While female calico cats are quite common, true male calicos are rare and of particular interest for the combination of their unique coloration and sex. While it's a myth that they can command a high price among cat fanciers, if you happen to own a male calico, you can treasure him for his rare condition and other wonderful feline attributes!

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What Makes Male Calico Cats Unique? Myths vs. Facts