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Ask a fan of tortoiseshell cats why they love torties and you’ll likely hear about their distinctive, patterned coats. A number of breeds can boast this eye-catching feature, including Maine Coons and American Shorthair cats. Named for its resemblance to a turtle’s shell, the tortie pattern typically comes in brown, black, and ginger, with a particular mix as unique as each individual cat. While calico cats look similar (and tend to show the same selection of colors), their coats feature discrete patches as opposed to swirls. Calicos also possess a gene that tortoiseshells don’t, which can lead to white pigmentation in their coats.
If the conversation starts to focus on the tortoiseshell cat’s personality, responses may vary. While torties’ coats make them a favorite of cat fanciers worldwide, their equally distinct personalities can sometimes frustrate first-time cat owners. Both anecdotal and scientific evidence suggest that tortoiseshell cats have their own kind of temperament, affectionately known as “tortitude.”
Tortitude: The Tortie Personality
Though tortoiseshell cats aren’t a breed all their own, felines with the tortoiseshell pattern are well known for possessing their own quirky (some might say irksome) temperament. Speaking to The Seattle Times, Barbara Doty called tortoiseshell cats the “divas” of the feline community. As the manager of a cat-centric nonprofit, she’s had plenty of time to observe examples of tortitude in action. “Some of them just want to be the one and only, the queen of the household,” she explained. Gina Knepp, who manages an animal shelter, concurred. In her words, “they’re fiery.”
Tortie owners report a range of behavioral quirks including excessive vocalization, boundless energy, and a general sassiness. Living with a tortie, cat lovers suggest, can mean contending with an above-average amount of other unwanted behaviors, like scratching and nipping.
Is Tortitude Real?
A 2016 study, conducted by researchers at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, asked 1,200 cat owners to describe their pets’ personalities. Using a 0-to-5 scale, the owners provided data related to the frequency of behavior like biting, hissing, and scratching. Their responses suggested that multi-colored female cats, such as calicos and torties, were slightly more likely to exhibit this aggressive conduct.
“We thought the findings were very interesting,” said lead author Elizabeth Stelow, before acknowledging that there is still more work to be done. “We would love other researchers to take the baton and run with it,” she added, “to look into the genetics of why this may be happening.” She and her colleagues hope their findings (and any future research into tortitude) won’t discourage would-be cat owners, but merely better prepare them for the ups and downs of pet parenthood. “I’ve got a crazy calico myself,” noted the study’s data analyst.
More Tortoiseshell Cat Facts
- Almost all tortoiseshell cats are female: Like their cousins the calico, torties are very, very rarely male. The unique color variations seen in both types of cat are only possible with two X chromosomes. As such, just around 1 in 3000 tortoiseshell cats are born male. These cats possess a Y chromosome as well as two X chromosomes, a genetic defect that makes them sterile and can shorten their lifespan.
- They’re considered good luck all over the world: Cultures on various continents have made tortoiseshell cats the subject of folklore. In parts of the United States, they’re considered lucky and nicknamed “money cats.” According to legend, Japanese fishermen believe they protect boats against elements both natural and supernatural. They attract admiration and wonder in the United Kingdom and other areas of Asia as well.
- There are many different types of torties: What do you get when you cross a tortoiseshell cat with a tabby cat? A torby! These cats’ coats feature tortoiseshell colors organized in stripes rather than swirls.