Feline Genetics: Types of Feline Coat Patterns and Colors (Part 2)

This is a continuation of the series about feline genetics. If you haven’t read part 1, click here! In this post, I will be covering the remaining coat patterns: tortoiseshell, calico, and color-point as well as some other miscellaneous facts!



Tortoiseshell cats, also affectionately named “torties”, have a consistent mix of orange/red and black, creating a unique coat unlike the ticked tabby pattern. The patches can range from being very mingled or they may be more distinct blocks of color. Other types of tortoiseshell cats include the “blue-cream” (also known as the blue tortie) is randomly patched all over with blue and cream. It is the dilute version of the more common red and black coat. Another is the “brown patched tabby” looks almost like autumn leaves, covered with patches of brown tabby and patches of red tabby. This color is often called the “torbie” because it is a tabby tortie.

Not only can the colors of the tortoiseshell cats vary between each individual cat, but the patterns of the colors can as well. In general, there are two main patterns: brindled and patched. Brindled patters give a more fluid appearance, as the colors are woven together. Patched patterns feature solid patches of the black or red hair.

Genetically, tortoiseshell and related colors (blue-cream, patched tabby, calico, etc.) are the result of a sex-linked gene, requiring two X chromosomes to appear. Just like in humans, two X chromosomes are most likely found in females. Very rarely, these colors may appear in male cats. But, these males are genetically abnormal, having a third sex chromosome (XXY) instead of the normal XY. As such, they are almost always infertile. Approximately 1 in every 300 tortoiseshell is a male.


Also known as tri-colors, calico cats are similar to tortoiseshells. However, instead of the color red and black being dominant, calicos are generally white with patches of color. As a rule, the more white there is on the cat, the larger and more distinct the red and black patches will be. Usually the large black patches are solid black while the large red patches are actually red tabby and will show tabby markings.

Via Calico Cat Facts

Just like in torties, calicos also have a dilute version, sporting blue and cream patches instead of red and black. The blue patches are solid blue while the cream patches are cream tabby. It will have the same amount of white, dominating the other colors. On the other hand, a “patched tabby and white” or “torbie and white” may have any amount of white. It is sometimes called a “patterned calico,” “calico tabby,” or “caliby.”

Calico cats are also overwhelmingly female because genetically, two X chromosomes are needed to produce a calico coat. According to The Cat Fancier’s Association Complete Cat Book; Persian calico cats have been accepted by CFA for years and calico Persians are always female and give birth to black-and-white or red and white bi-colored sons.

Fun Fact: On October 1, 2001, the state of Maryland was so enamored with this delightful cat that they declared the calico cat as their official state cat, despite it being not an actual breed.


If a cat has easily recognized dark “points” on the face, paws, and tail, compared to its much lighter color coat on the body, it is classified as a “pointed” cat. This pattern is most commonly found on the Siamese cat but it isn’t exclusive to the breed because many other breeds as well as non-purebreds also carry this pattern.

Pointed cats are born white and gradually darken with age. A young pointed cat will have a much lighter body color than an older pointed cat.

These “points” can come in a variety of colors, hence the name “color-point,” also called the “Himalayan” pattern (not to be confused with the Himalayan breed). The most common are lilac, referred to as frost-point; red, referred to as flame-point; dark brown, referred to as seal-point; chocolate, and blue. For example:

  • A seal-pointed cat will have dark brown points with a body color anywhere between light brown, pale fawn, or cream.
  • A blue-pointed cat will have deeper grayish blue points with a light gray, beige, or platinum gray-bluish body.
  • Flame-pointed cats will have a warm cream-white body with deep orange red points.
  • Frost-pointed cats will have a milk-white body with lilac gray or pinkish points.
  • Lastly, chocolate-pointed felines will have an ivory-almost white body with warm milk-chocolate points. Unlike the seal-point, chocolate-points have a pink undertone that is visible on the paw pads and the nose that the seal-point lacks.
Seal lynx-point Ragdoll kitten

In breeds outside of the Siamese, the points can be in a tortoiseshell pattern or in a tabby pattern in any of these colors. Tortie-point will have seal and red patches on a creamy white body. There is also the dilute version blue-cream point, which as the name suggests has blue-cream points. Tabby color-points are more popularly known as lynx-points and will also show on the legs in addition to the face, paws, and tail. Instead of a specific color, lynx-points will also have dark tabby stripes of any of the possible colors on the body which will become more apparent as the cat gets older. Pointed cats can also have white markings. However, it will cover up any other color where they appear, making it difficult to see the pointed pattern.

Fun Fact: This pattern is actually temperature related. The cooler parts of the body develop a darker color and have more pigment.

Special Effects?

Well, no not really. But some cats’ coats present quite spectacular “special effects,” achieved by a change from light color to dark color along the shaft of each hair. The lighter shade is usually white or cream and the darker can be of various colors. These can come in one of three versions:

  • Tipped: Only the tips of the hair are dark. This gives the effect of the Chinchilla coat, where the cat appears almost white, with an all over silvery shimmer. This is sometimes referred to as “shell.”
  • Shaded: Roughly half of the hair is light and half is dark.
  • Smoked: Most of the hair is dark, with a light undercoat that shows through as the cat is moving.

Distinct White Markings


Clearly delineated white markings (as opposed to shaded points, like the Siamese) can appear on any color. Just add “and white” to the cat’s basic color to describe the cat. So for example your cat might be a “black and white” or a “cream tabby and white.”

Cats with white markings might have larger or smaller areas of white. If you want to describe your cat’s color more precisely, there are different names for the different amounts of white:

  • A “mitted” cat just has white paws or mittens. Gloves, similar to mittens, is a mutation exclusively found in Birman cats, like the one pictured above.
  • A cat with a white spot on its chest has a “locket.”
  • A cat with one or more little white belly spots has “buttons.”
  • A “bi-color” is about half white.
  • A “harlequin” is mostly white with several large patches of color.
  • A “van” is almost all white with color patches only on the head and tail.

There are a couple of affectionate, informal terms used for black and white cats:

  • A “tuxedo cat” is a black and white cat with white paws, chest, and belly. It might have some white on the face as well.
  • Some people call black and white cats “jellicle cats” (after T.S.Eliot)

Next week, we will delve more into the genetics behind feline coat patterns and colors and will contain much more dense information than part 1 and part 2 but is equally interesting! After all, genes are what controls how a cat looks like. Tune in!

References + For More Reading

Eyewitness Companions: Cats by Dr. Bruce Fogle

Robinson’s Genetics for Cat Breeders and Veterinarians

7 Genes That Control Your Cat’s Fur Color

Cat Coat Colors and Patterns

Tabby Cats

Calico Cats

Feline Color and Pattern Charts

The Genetics of Calico Cats

Feline Breeds, Domestic Cats, and Color Patterns

Feline Coat Color Tests

Cat Color Genetics

Common Cat Colors

Genetics of Coat Color in Cats, Emphasizing DNA Studies

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Tortoiseshell Cat

Calico Cat Facts

Featured Photo: Venus the Two-Faced Cat


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