Wednesday 17 December 2008

Tortoiseshell Cats

tortoiseshell Persian cat Princess
Tortoiseshell cats - Tortie Ultra (Contemporary) Persian Cat
She is called "Princess". Photograph is copyright Helmi Flick
- please respect copyright. 

Torties have a very distinct appearance. It is an impressive appearance, an almost chaotic appearance and a strange one. Sometimes the change in fur color dissects the nose as with the cat below right (this is a Flickr photograph published under a creative commons license - Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic - it is by kangster).

This is called a "blaze" by cat breeders as I understand it. The lighter color on the nose of this cat is caused by the pigment called phaeomelanin (red/yellow pigment). It is an appearance that I personally like very much. But do we see this cat coat at cat shows and on show cats? We do, but not as commonly, in my opinion, as many other types of coat.

All the photos and on this page are protected by copyright © including the photos in the video. Violations of copyright are reported to (DMCA).

tortoiseshell cat face
Black tortie with blaze on nose

For example, the Persian above was photographed by Helmi at a cat show. Tortoiseshell can also be seen as black tortoiseshell, chocolate tortoisehell, blue tortoisehell and seal tortoiseshell. And, of course, you've got tortoiseshell and white. Then you've got the pointed cats with tortoiseshell pointing. In other words these are pointed cats such as the Himalayan (a long haired Persian) with the pointing made up of tortoiseshell hair coloration. We shouldn't forget the torbies.

What are torbies? These are a mix of tabby and tortoiseshell. And there are cats too, that only have torbie pointing or cats that are torbie and white. And you've got the dilute torbies and silver torbies - I could go on; the range is almost endless and very involved. In fact, it gets really complicated. And I haven't mentioned all the combinations. As I can't show them all, I'll stick to some prime examples and an explanation as to what happens to make the fur tortoiseshell in appearance. First here is another good old plain tortoiseshell color on a fine Maine Coon cat - a great looker - the Maine Coons nearly always are:

Tortoiseshell Maine Coon cat
Tortoiseshell Maine Coon Cat "Madison". Photograph is strictly copyright Helmi Flick. Please respect copyright.

So what is happening at a genetic level? There are two types of color pigmentation in individual hairs, eumelanin (black/brown) and phaeomelanin (red/yellow pigment). Domestic cats are either red because the pigment phaeomelanin is present or not if eumelanin is present. Tortoiseshell cats have a pattern of both pigments which are dispersed throughout the entirety of the individual hairs (i.e. this is a solid colored cat as opposed to a tabby cat, where the hairs have a banding of color within them). In other words torties are non-agouti cats. A lot of us know that tortoiseshell cats are always female, with rare exceptions. Why is this? Females have two X chromosomes. If a particular female cat is destined to be a tortie she will have received from her parents an X (Eumelanin) chromosome from one parent and an X chromosome (phaeomelanin) from the other. Each cell can have one X Chromosome activated. A factor in the creation of the tortoiseshell coat is controlled by X Chromosome Inactivation. This process only takes place where there are two X Chromosomes; hence only females are tortoiseshell cats. As the cells divide and multiply patches of the two different types of pigment are created.

The video shows the cats you see here plus more and some strange music - I chose it! The music complies with copyright law and I like it. Here are some examples of tortoiseshell cats:

Black tortoiseshell and white Persian cat
Black Tortoiseshell and White Persian cat -- photo copyright Helmi Flick

Black tortoiseshell cat
Black Tortoiseshell cat - this is a household pet or non-purebred cat but still a show cat - the photograph is copyright Helmi Flick. Please respect Helmi Flick's copyright of all her photographs.

Blue torbie point Persian cat
Blue Torbie Point Persian cat -- photo copyright Helmi Flick

Tortoiseshell and white domestic cat
Tortoiseshell and White domestic cat (called household pets in the cat fancy) -- photo copyright Helmi Flick

Tortoiseshell cats to Home Page

See the following alternative cat coat colors and patterns:

Cat coats tabby

Cat coats tabby and white

Cat coats color dilution

Cat coats white

Cat coats solid and white

Black cats

The tortoiseshell cats above are well loved, cared for and frankly pretty glamorous. Now lets briefly look at the other side of the coin. There is another report of a tortie cat being shot with an air gun. It happened in Herne Avenue, Herne Bay, England. This is on the coast in the south of England. An 18 month old tortie cat was shot in the spine with an air rifle (or hand gun). The pellet lodged in the spine. This cat will be lucky to survive. Apparently such cruelty tends to take place more in the school holidays indicating that it is school boys that are the culprits. Ultimately it is the parents who are to blame.

This is a criminal act punishable by a maximum of 51 weeks in prison and/or a £20,000 fine under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The chance of the person being caught is minimal. The police in the UK just don't give a damn about this sort of crime.


  1. I love Torties. I have an blue cream tortie point with angora hair and beautiful blue eyes. She also seems to have some sort of shimmering gene. Her brothers are solid metalic grey that shine like the Weimaraner dogs. She is a mixed breed. I got her from the shelter as a kitten.

  2. The maine coon is wonderful.
    Can you please tell me its breeder?

    I'm looking for the male for Divine Folie. A young maine coon that is 7 months old.

    Can you please answer me at rocmanzi at

  3. I was gifted with two black torties, the first was an older brittish shorthair who's owner could no longer keep her, she's moody and aloof when other people are around but when it's just us and quiet, she's happy to snuggle.

    The second is a crazy kitten my friend gave me after meeting yoli, just as moody but more in your face, whiny and has no qualms jumping into anyones lap, she was dropped on a doorstep.

    They keep me sane, whether it's their breed or coloring I'm never bored or lonely watching as yoli teaches the kitten to, tear open the treat bag, get rubberbands out of my hair care box, mind her manners and one to eat a mouse!

    I love my kitty girls.

  4. Tortoiseshell cats are one of the most popular and you can see why. Their coat is unique. And there is always that little discussion and mystery as to whether the tortoiseshell cat has a special personality as well.

  5. My tortie cat had 5 kittens all are black, I thought Some have White Spots underneath and/or A slight brown Tent with barley visible strips. The one I am asking about is a Long hair black to the eye but with close scrutiny slight brown and stripes I took a photo looks black but took a 2nd one with color enhancement and it came out a tan_reddish color almost
    a tiger color . My question is this an optical illusion or can the kitten change to that color over time.thanks for any information .


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