What are Calico Cats?

Caitlin Dempsey


A calico kitten stares at the camera.

The term calico when it comes to cat is about the coat colors. A calico cat, regardless of the breed, is a cat that has a tri-color coat. Most calicos have some combination of two colors: black, red (or orange), or brown along with a white base.

Orange, black, and white is the most common color combination for calico cats.

Calico cats typically have between 25% to 75% white fur. White is always one of the colors in the tricolor calico color combination.

Calicos are Almost Always Female

As the genetic determination of calico cats is linked to the X chromosome, almost all calicos are female cats. There are some male calico cats due to the cat having two X chromosomes or a genetic mutation but these are rare.

Male calico cats are usually sterile. Related: Unicorn of Cats

Is Calico a Breed of Cat?

The term calico refers only to the color pattern of a cat’s fur. The calico pattern is not breed specific. Several breeds of cat such as Persian, Manx, Maine Coon, and Scottish Fold can have calico patterns.

What is the Difference Between a Calico and a Tortoiseshell?

While a calico and tortoiseshell cat may look similar, these cats have different types of coats. Tortoiseshell cats are named after their coats’ similarity to the pattern on a tortoise.

Tortoiseshell cats are distinguished by the presence of two colors other than white, either closely blended or in larger areas. Calicos have a combination of three colors with the white coat covering 25% to 75% of the cat.

A calico cat look at the camera.
A tortoiseshell cat. Photo: Carole M. Highsmith, public domain via LOC.gov.

What is a Caliby?

A calico cat that also has a tabby cat coat pattern is known as a caliby. A caliby cat will have the two-color coat combination of a calico and the tabby cat markings such as the “M” pattern on the forehead and banding on the tail. Related: Torbie Cats Explained

A calico kitten stares at the camera.
A calico tabby kitten known as a caliby. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

What are Diluted Calicos?

Diluted calicos are cats that have muted colors in their coat. Diluted calicos tend to have a coat pattern with grey, cream, and gold colors.

State Cat of Maryland

The calico was declared the state cat of Maryland on October 1, 2001. The typical colors of orange, black, and white on a Calico align with the colors of the Baltimore oriole (State bird) and the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly (State insect).

Calicoes are Symbols of Good Luck

Several cultures consider the calico cat a sign of good luck.

In Germany, calico cats are called “Glückskatze” which means “lucky cat”.

In Japan, male calico cats (Mike-neko) are considered good luck charms.The maneki-neko (‘beckoning cat’ or ‘inviting cat’) figurine, commonly kept at the entrances of shops and home as a good luck charm, is a Japanese bobtail cat with a calico pattern.


Malouf, N., Benirschke, K., & Hoefnagel, D. (1967). XX/XY chimerism in a tricolored male cat. Cytogenetic and Genome Research6(3-4), 228-241.

Share this article:

Photo of author
About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey holds both a master's in Geography from UCLA and a Master of Library and Information Science. She is the editor of Geographyrealm.com and an avid researcher of geography and feline topics. A lifelong cat owner, Caitlin currently has three rescued cats: an orange tabby, a gray tabby, and a black cat.