Calico cats are very easy to spot. Their colorful coat of three colors is hard to miss. Some people believe that calico is a cat breed. Others think it is a color. However, calico refers to a unique tricolor pattern. A non-diluted calico has mostly white, which is the predominant color, with distinct patches of orange (or red) and black. Some cats will have chocolate instead of black, but this is quite rare.
By contrast, a diluted calico will have a coat of white, cream, blue (sort of like a bluish gray) or cinnamon. The washed out colors are caused by the dilution gene.
But what causes this unique pattern? It's all about genetics. More specifically, the answer lies in the chromosome X, which contains the code responsible for fur coloring in cats. The Y chromosome, by contrast, contains no information associated with color. Now, a set of two X chromosomes are required to produce a calico. Male cats have a set of XY while female cats have a set of XX, so most calicos happen to be female. Though rare, you will find male calicos, which for the most part happen to be sterile.
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Interestingly, many people confuse calicos with tortoiseshell cats. At first glance, they may look similar, but upon closer examination they're quite different. The main difference being that tortoiseshell cats have very little or no white fur. Some people confuse the two because some tortoiseshells display more white hair than usual, but this hair is mostly mixed in with the other colors. By the way, the two other colors are also blended. Calicos, on the other hand, have three distinct patches of color, white being the most prominent.
Another interesting fact is that not all tricolor cats are calico cats, some cat breeds like the Himalayan and Javanese have coats with tricolor points but these are not considered to be true calicos