Happy birthday dear CC! Happy birthday to you! It has been seventeen years since the birth of the first cloned cat. That's a rather ripe age for a cat. CC (Short for Copy Cat) was an attempt at cloning a calico named Rainbow.
However, CC, while a genetic duplicate of Rainbow, had completely different markings. CC is mostly white with brown tabby patches on her back and head with none of Rainbow's orange spots.
Rainbow seemed to like her clone anyway and CC and three of her four kittens have been very healthy. (One poor thing turned out stillborn.)
The experiment did reveal a lot about how genetics and other circumstances lead to the color and formation of a cat's coat.
What is a Calico cat?
A calico is a coat pattern, not a breed. The calico is so named after the calico cloth, a cotton textile originally woven in Calcutta, India and dyed in many bright colors and patterns.
The most commonly seen combination of colors is white, orange, and black. There are, however, many other varieties such as cream, midnight blue, and auburn to russet.
Origin of Calico Cats
The fur color pattern of calico cats is not indicative of any breed, but rather occurs randomly in cat breeds that have a range of color patterns. Thus, the pattern has no distinct historical background. However, attempts have been made to trace the migration paths of such cats.
While it is unknown when or why cats mutated to have orange fur, the mutant gene that causes orange fur has been traced back to Mediterranean ports.
In Canada, the calico is known as a Spanish cat. It seems a few Spanish sailors wouldn't weigh anchor without their multicolored mousers aboard. Greek, Italian and French sailors liked them too. And of course, all paw prints lead to Egypt.
Genetically speaking, calicos and tortoiseshells are the same, only calicos also have the white spotting gene. As the locus for the gene for orange/non orange coloring is found on the X chromosome, calico cats are almost always female.
Every female animal has two X chromosomes where every male animal has an X and a Y chromosome.
Because the Y chromosome does not possess any locus for the orange gene, there is no way that an XY male could have both orange and non-orange genes at the same time, which is what is needed to create calico or tortoiseshell coloring.
On the rare occasion that a male has an extra X chromosome, he may be calico colored. He will also likely be sterile.
Types of Calico Cats
A dilute calico has more subdued color patches. Along with white, the patches will be more charcoal grey than dark black and more strawberry blonde than bright orange. The white may be more cream colored. They may also be known as the pastel calico cat.
The “tortie” has more black and orange fur than white. Instead of distinct spots, the tortie will have a random blend of multicolored fur.
A patched tabby is like the kind of cat CC is. Such a calico tabby cat has distinct tabby stripes as well as prominent black and perhaps ginger patches.
Some say the calico has a sassy “diva” personality. Could it be because people have been so indulgent towards a cat that is both beautiful and believed to carry lucky mojo?
They are also said to be aggressive when handled. Could it be because people (young children especially) tend to treat calico kittens more like toys than live animals?
Any cat's personality and behavior is influenced more by their experiences and upbringing than any direct cause of fur color. Be kind to your kitty and teach children to treat cats and kittens gently.
You should also check out this article where we compiled a huge list of names for calico kitties!
Health and Lifespan
Due to genetic abnormalities, a male calico's lifespan tends to be a short one. Diabetes, and reduced bone mineral content in particular are two health problems these poor boors are susceptible to. A lot of attention has to be paid to his diet and exercise to keep him healthy.
The average lifespan for a calico is twelve to sixteen years, the same for any cat. As of this writing, CC has recently celebrated her seventeenth birthday and is still going.
Breeds that can have Calico coat
Some cats, such as the Russian blue and the British shorthair, are only considered breed standard if they have solid colored coats.
Pointed breeds like the Siamese also don't accept calico coloring as standard. However, our fluffy friends the Persian, angora and Maine coon can be as colorful as they want to be.
A long haired calico is a beautiful sight, but so is a short haired calico such as the colorpoint shorthair, Scottish fold, Manx, and, of course, the Japanese bobtail.
All of the rex breeds make fun and fuzzy calicos as do the American curl and the Norwegian forest cat.
Calico Cat Facts
Around the World
In Japan, three colored calicos (where they're called tobi mi-ke) are considered good luck, particularly where money is concerned.
The maneki neko is a ceramic sculpture of a calico that waves a paw, beckoning people to come in. Japanese sailors also thought calicos to be lucky, bringing them on board ships to frighten away ghosts and storms as well as mice and rats.
Kishi Station did better business after a calico named Tama was made honorary stationmaster.
An Irish superstition claims that you can get rid of warts by rubbing them with a calico's tail in the month of May.
The state cat of Maryland is the calico. Since their state bird is the oriole and their state insect is the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly, they must like the colors orange and black! Their flag is rather bold colored as well.
In Holland, the calico is called lapjeskat, which means “patches cat” in Dutch.
The Washington Observatory is home to a calico named Inga who keeps the mice away.
Those Beautiful Markings!
Nearly all calico cats are female. The rare male calico tends to be sterile. It's just as well; male calicos also have a tendency to be gay. At least he's already dressed for the Pride parade!
No two calicos are alike. Just like with tiger stripes and leopard spots, every pattern is as individual as a fingerprint. As we've seen, even calico clones have different fur colors and patterns.
There is the caliby, a cat with a coat that is a mix of calico and tabby markings. A torbie is a tortoiseshell with a few tabby stripes.
Art and Culture
Calico cats are a favorite subject of painters. Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin, a French painter with a taste for domestic scenes, painted calico cats.
His cats seem to have a hankering for fish and oysters. Theodore Gericault, an aficionado of macabre subjects, did a painting called The Dead Cat of a poor little torbie who just wasn't long for this world.
Francois Boucher used cats in his painting to symbolize eroticism. In his La Toilette, a calico can be seen playing beneath the skirts of a young lady trying to get dressed.
The cat almost looks like she's laughing! El Greco did a painting of the women in his family doing some sort of textile work while a calico looks on curiously.
Many of the characters in the stage musical Cats are calicos. Jenny-Any-Dots may be a patched tabby since she is described as having “tiger stripes and leopard spots”.
Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser are traditionally played by a man and a woman, causing fans to wonder if they're meant to be a mated couple or brother and sister. (Real life cats wouldn't care either way.)
There's also Jemima (Sillabub in some productions), the little tortie kitten who encourages Grizabella by singing for her when the poor old grey thing is too tired to continue.
Many of Rum Tum Tugger's fangirls are also calicos.
According to Greek myth, the calico was created when a red haired servant of Alcmene's named Galanthis lied to Hera about the birth of Heracles in hopes that the Goddess of Childbearing would not interfere with the delivery.
When Hera learned about the ruse, she punished Galanthis by turning her into a red and white cat.
The least Alcmene could do for someone who proved both loyal servant and faithful friend was take her into her home to be a well treated pet. Galanthis was perhaps the very first playmate for Heracles.
According to Pottermore, a witch who can create a calico Patronus is clever, patient, alert, quirky and loyal but independent.
Famous Calicos and their Owners
The Creationist Cat is a YouTube commentator who takes the guise of a male calico cat with humorously exaggerated right leaning ideals.
The vice president in charge of claims for Lloyd's of London is a calico appropriately named London.
The famous internet sensation Tarter Sauce, AKA “Grumpy Cat” has Siamese markings, but her mother was a calico named Callie.
Martha Stewart owns two calicos named Princess Peony and Empress Tang. It's a good thing!
Frequently Asked Questions
- The origins of cats by Pakinam Amer at nature.com
- Basic Cat Genetics at The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy
- The Genetics of Calico Cats University of Miami
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