tortoiseshell cat outdoors

Tortoiseshell is not a breed but a coat pattern that cats of many different breeds may genetically develop. These cats got their name because their coat pattern is similar to that of a tortoise’s shell. Tortoiseshell cats are sometimes confused with calico cats, but they do not have a white base coat like calicos do. Tortoiseshell cats can be in many colors, but they are usually black and ginger, which can display in patches and streaks across the body. So, are tortoiseshell cats rare? The short answer is: not really. However, certain tortoiseshell cats are rare. Let us explain here.

Male Tortoiseshell Cats Are Rare

While tortoiseshell cats, in general are not rare, male tortoiseshell cats are. Only an estimated one in 3,000 tortoiseshell cats that are born will be male. The reason for this is that two X chromosomes are required to make the tortoiseshell coat pattern. Males typically have just one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. However, very few males have two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome. This means male tortoiseshell cats are almost always sterile.

So, in short, it’s rare for a male cat to be tortoiseshell, and it’s even rarer for a male tortoiseshell cat to have reproductive capabilities.

tortoiseshell cat
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Interesting Facts About Tortoiseshell Cats

Tortoiseshell cats are well-known around the world. Most live in homes of all shapes and sizes, while some live on the streets and others are in animal shelters. They are just like any other cat, but they happen to have a unique coat pattern. That said, here are a few interesting facts about tortoiseshell cats that every feline lover should know.

Tortoiseshell Cats Are Known for Having “Tortitude”

Anyone who has spent time with a tortoiseshell cat will tell you that they’ve got a bit of an attitude compared to other cats. A study was done that can back up the claim that tortoiseshell cats (and calicos) tend to be more aggressive and harder to manage than cats with less flashy coat colors and patterns. This attitude that tortoiseshell cats are known for is lovingly referred to as “tortitude” by owners and admirers alike.

Tortoiseshell Cats Can Be Many Different Breeds

Tortoiseshell is not a breed. Tortoiseshell coats can occur in a variety of different breeds, including Persians, Maine Coons, American Shorthairs, and Ragamuffins. Mixed breed and purebred cats can produce tortoiseshell cats. It all comes down to lineage and genetics. It’s also important to note that tortoiseshell cats can have either long or short coats.

There Is a Subcategory Called Torbies

Tortoiseshell cats that have tabby stripes are sometimes referred to as torbies by breeders and owners. This is just a variation of the tortoiseshell colors and patterns. Torbies tend to have stripes on their foreheads and legs, but the striping can be anywhere on the body. What tortoiseshell cats and torbies have in common is that their coats are typically made up of black, red, and orange colors.


Tortoiseshell cats are colorful and intriguing. They stand out from the crowd. They aren’t necessarily rare as a whole, but males are extremely rare. If you do happen to get a male Tortoiseshell cat, you should not expect him to reproduce with any unspayed female cats that might be living in your home, as they are almost always sterile.

Featured Image Credit: IMG Stock Studio, Shutterstock