Calico cats are known for their beautiful, tapestry-like, tricolor coats. But what makes a cat a calico cat? First of all, calico is not a breed and it's not a color either. Calico is a color pattern. To be a true calico, a cat's coat must have mostly white, which is the predominant color, and then it must have distinct patches of orange and black. A calico sporting these colors is said to be a non-diluted calico. A diluted calico, by contrast, will have a coat of white, cream and blue (sort of like a bluish gray). The washed out colors are caused by the dilution gene.
Talking about genes, calicos are mostly females. The cause of this lies in the chromosome X, which contains the code responsible for fur coloring in cats. The Y chromosome, on the other hand, contains no code associated with color. Now, two X chromosomes are needed 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. However, though rare, there are male calicos. Usually, these male calicos are sterile.
Interestingly enough, many people confuse calicos with tortoiseshell cats. At first glance, they may look similar, but they're not. The main difference is that tortoiseshell cats have very little to no white fur. Some people confuse the two because some tortoiseshells have more white fur than usual, but this is mostly mixed in with the other colors. By the way, that is the other significant difference - the two other colors are also blended. Unlike tortoiseshell cats, calicos have three distinct patches of color, white being the most prominent.
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