The calico cat is a domestic cat that has a spotted or partly coloured coat which is mainly white and with spots of two other colours. These are most often black and orange tabby. Outside North America this colour of cat is most often known as tortoiseshell and white while other names include a tricolour cat, mi-ke (Japanese for triple fur) and the lapjeskat (Dutch for patches cat).
Calico is a colouration, not an actual breed of cat so isn’t found on any list of cat breeds. Of the breeds that have show standards accepting calico are the Manx American Shorthair, British Shorthair, Japanese Bobtail, Persian, Exotic Shorthair and the Turkish Van.
Because it isn’t a breed as such, there is no definitive breed history of calico cats. However, there was a study conducted by Neil Todd that worked to determine the migration of domestic cats following trade routes across Europe and Northern Africa. This found that the cats having the orange mutant gene featured in calicos could be traces to port cities along the Mediterranean originating in Egypt and found in Greece, Italy, France and Spain.
Because the genetic determination of some of the coat colours in cats is connected with the X chromosome, nearly all calico cats are female. Males calico kittens are rare, usually sterile and have impaired vitality and general health. Genetically speaking, a calico is a tortoiseshell in every way apart from having a gene that gives them white spots.
There are many cultures around the world that believe calico cats are good luck and in the US they are sometimes referred to as money cats. In Japan, the Maneki Neko figurine is nearly always a calico cat and a cat of this colouration is the state cat of Maryland.
Calico cats have a reputation for being personality-wise very much like the tortoiseshell. They are often described as being very devoted, spirited and having a bit of a hot temper to match the sections of their coat.
One famous calico rescued her entire family, humans and animals, from a burning house by scratching on the door of every room until people were roused. Another was on TV for returning four times to a burning shed to rescue her kittens, at the cost of terrible burns to herself but her kittens were unscathed. She received hundreds of visitors to the animal hospital where she was recovering to wish her well!
Many people who have had these cats say that calicos often have funny little habits and personality quirks that means they aren’t the most laid-back and placid of cats. However, it also means that they are endlessly interesting and will keep their owners on their toes.
Calicos have the same average lifespan as most domestic cats, around 15 years though if you do have one of the rare male cats, then the lifespan is reduced due to the genetic problems they have. Apart from the health problems that come to the males due to these complications, calicos are not known for any particular health problems or issues.