page title icon Tortoiseshell Cats: The Divas of the Cat World

by Linda Mathews Last Updated August 3, 2023

The tortoiseshell cat, called “tortie”, is a unique feline with a coat that resembles the shell of a tortoise. The term “tortoiseshell” refers to a distinct pattern (tortoiseshell coloring), not to a tortoiseshell breed.

These cats are the mottled beauty of the cat world, but in addition to a signature appearance, these divas with multicolor fur have a rich history, hold a special place in folklore all over the world, and the feistiness of these female cats is notorious.

These felines are sassy, vocal, energetic, and extremely loyal. Besides, many cat owners know about their tortitude firsthand.

If you are looking for great cats with an offbeat personality who will keep you on your toes, the torties are definitely what you need. Keep reading to learn what makes them so special, and why you won’t be able to resist their magnetism.

The History of Tortoiseshell Cats

The History of Tortoiseshell Cats

Cats have always been surrounded by a veil of mystery and mysticism. From time immemorial, they were considered guides to the other world and were often accused of complicity with sorcerers and witches.

Therefore, it is not surprising that such unusual, rare animals with a unique tortie pattern are considered mystical. In different countries, there are beliefs associated with these cats.

Frequently, these felines are considered a symbol of good luck and wealth. Ancient Celts believed that these four-legged beauties were a symbol of good luck and happiness.

In Russia, people believe that tricolor cats bring peace and happiness to the house and protect from evil forces.

In Japan, tortie cats are revered with great honor because they protect the house from evil spirits and people with bad intentions. Also, Japanese fishermen believed the cats protected their ships from ghosts.

In the East, cats have a special honor, and as pets, they are more preferable than dogs. Tortie cats are believed to protect against adversity, fires, and theft.

Americans call tortoiseshell cats money cats and associate them with material goods; tricolor American Bobtails, are especially popular in the US.

Did you know? Tortoiseshell vs. Calico Cats: How to Spot the Difference



Tortoiseshell cats are perfect fur balls that may boast a long, silky, luxurious coat, or medium-length or short tortoiseshell fur, depending on the breed. The most common breeds with this unique pattern are the following:

  • American Shorthairs have a powerful, muscular, medium-sized body with a short and thick coat and mesmerizing yellow eyes.
  • Tortoiseshell British Shorthair felines are known for having a broad face with round cheeks, almond-shaped eyes, and a dense and plush coat.
  • Persians are quiet and sweet cats with long hair (orange fur sometimes), a round face, and a short muzzle, which is a zest of this breed.
  • Cornish Rex is a cat with an extraordinary appearance and a clownish personality.
  • Maine Coons are gentle-natured felines with long, dense fur, a magnificent fluffy tail, and enormously beautiful eyes.

How big do tortoiseshell cats get? The size depends on the breed. Obviously, Maine Coons are much bigger than Cornish Rex cats.


A tortoiseshell cat has inherited different colour alleles from their parents: she may have a red allele from her father and a non-red allele from her mother. After X-inactivation, this means that some of her cells will produce red pigment, and some will produce black.

This pattern appears in tortoiseshell cats with two X-chromosomes. Usually, female tortie cats have two X-chromosomes, and male cats have one X chromosome, so it is impossible for a male tortoiseshell cat to be born. Technically, this is the truth, but… In rare cases, a cat can be born with three chromosomes – two Xs and one Y-chromosome, and this feline will be a male tortoiseshell cat. Almost in all cases, this male cat will be infertile.

Tortoiseshell coloring is very unique

Black and orange cats come with a host of sub-categories of tortoiseshell colors. You can meet a classical mosaic pattern with a blend of various colors, a bridled pattern, which means the presence of black and orange shades woven together, or a dilute tortie pattern with “soft” hues.

A lilac tortoiseshell cat, a grey with a beautiful tortoiseshell pattern, a blue tortoiseshell cat, and cream dilute tortoiseshell cats will amaze you with their beauty. This list is not exhaustive. When a tortoiseshell cat meets a tabby cat, the patched torbie pattern appears.

Usually, torbie cats (tortoiseshell tabby cats) feature brown and orange tortoiseshell patches and tabby stripes on the head and paws. There is another mysterious pattern, and the rarest one!

The chimera tortoiseshell cat looks like a two-faced magical creature because it has one coat coloring on one side, and a different coat color on the other side.

Eye color

It is known that eye colors are linked to certain coat colors and patterns. So, for instance, all pointed cats will have blue eyes, whereas white and particolor felines will be the owners of blue or odd eyes.

However, there is no proven connection between a tortie coat pattern and certain eye color. The eyes of tortoiseshell cats can be green, yellow, amber, hazel, and various shades of these colors.

Biology & Health

Biology & Health

There is no evidence that there is a proven connection between the color of cats’ fur and health problems. If you are curious about your furry friend’s genetic disposition, you can read about the particular breed and its genetics.

Overall, many people found tortoiseshell cats quite healthy, but there are some exceptions linked to a specific breed.

For instance, Ragdolls are predisposed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a heart condition characterized by a thickening of the heart muscle, which decreases the volume of blood that the heart can pump.

One of the largest breeds, Maine Coons, suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, heart issues, and hip dysplasia. Persians, felines with brachycephalic skulls, suffer from respiratory and digestive issues.

Besides, Norwegian Forest cats are prone to cardiac issues, bone and joint issues, and Glycogen storage disease.

Weight range

The weight also depends on the breed. It’s obvious that there will be a significant difference in the size and weight of adult Maine Coon and Persian cats. Thus, adult Maine Coon cats weigh on average 15-25 lbs, whereas Persians weigh between 7 and 12 pounds.

Tortoiseshell cat life expectancy

Tortoiseshell cats have their own life expectancy, which depends on the breed, genetics, cat food, and living conditions. Some specialists believe that indoor cats tend to live longer than their outdoor counterparts, typically reaching 10 to 15 years of age. Cats who spend their lives exclusively outdoors live an average of just 2 to 5 years.

Tortoiseshell Cat Personality

Are tortoiseshell cats mean? Many cat owners tell stories about the famous “tortitude” of most tortoiseshell cats, whereas others claim that fur shade can’t be an indication of a tortoiseshell cat personality. However, according to some studies, tortoiseshell cats have distinct character traits.

The study, led by Elizabeth Stelow, DVM, Dipl. ACVB and published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, revealed that “cats with calico and tortoiseshell coat patterns tend to challenge their human companions more often” than cats with other coat patterns, according to Seattle Times.

In the meantime, most tortoiseshell cats are loyal, social, friendly with other cats, and devoted to their owners. Besides, a tortie kitten can become a lap cat, a loving cat, or a constant companion in active games. So, we can say for sure that a tortoiseshell cat will definitely bring joy to your life and paint it with bright colors.

Fascinating Facts About Tortoiseshell Cats

Fascinating Facts About Tortoiseshell Cats

Tortoiseshell felines are gorgeous and unique creatures. Do you know that the tortoiseshell cat is the official cat of Maryland? Here are more intriguing facts about tortoiseshell cats. Check them out and learn what makes them a top choice for cat lovers all over the world.

Editor’s note

Why are tortoiseshell cats special?

Aside from their unique genetics, tortoiseshell cats are believed to bring luck in the mythology of several countries. Irish people believe that tortoiseshell cats will bring luck to their owners. In the United States, torties are known as money cats.

Almost all tortoiseshell cats are female cats, but male cats do exist

Just like their calico-sisters, most tortoiseshell cats are female. Male tortoiseshell cats are extremely rare, and usually, male torties are born sterile due to chromosomal abnormalities. If you have found male tortoiseshells in a kill shelter or a cat rescue, then you are incredibly lucky.

Contrary to popular belief, sometimes torties can have white spots

In rare cases, torties with white legs, bibs, and bellies do exist. These white areas are well-organized, which distinguishes them from calico cats. The official name for these felines is “tortoiseshell with white trim”.

There are long-lived cats

A tortoiseshell cat Marzipan from Australia lived for 21 years. This cutie has arrived in the Astor Theatre in Melbourne, Australia, when it was a kitty, and after a while became very popular.

Tortoiseshell butterflies exist
The term tortoiseshell refers not only to the cat pattern but also to the butterfly pattern.

Torties have a divine origin

In South East Asia, people believe that the first tortie cat has appeared from the blood of a goddess in the lotus flower.

Famous people loved Torties

One of the tortie tidbits – Edgar Allen Poe, a famous writer, has had a beautiful tortoiseshell girl named Cattarina for many years.

They have made their mark in folklore

In myths and legends of different countries, these cats hold a special place. They are believed to have supernatural powers and are considered to be good luck charms or money cats.

Cats are named after tortoise shell material

Derived from real live turtles, tortoiseshell was the highest quality material used to make jewelry and home decor items until the 1970s (later synthetic tortoiseshell appeared). Tortoiseshell cats were named after this material because the tortie’s coat resembles its color and pattern.

Various breeds can feature tortoiseshell kittens

Purebred and mixed cats can have a litter of tortie kittens. Depending on the breed, they can have short, long and fluffy, or medium-length fur.

Frequently asked questions

Are tortoiseshell cats hypoallergenic?

No, torties are not hypoallergenic cats. Cat allergies aren’t bound to a certain fur color or pattern. According to AnimalPath, no feline is truly hypoallergenic because all of them produce Fel d 1 protein, the allergen that causes allergic reactions. This allergen is found in a feline’s urine, skin, or saliva. There are certain breeds that produce less protein, but still, they can cause allergic reactions.

Why are tortoiseshell cats so weird?

Many tortie owners know about the so-called “tortitude” of tortoiseshell cats firsthand. What does it mean? Every person interprets it in their own way, but usually, torties are known for being vocal, feisty, and demonstrating dog-like tendencies, including playing with water.

Besides, other cat lovers claim that tortoiseshell cats are extremely cuddly, talkative, and affectionate, but most cats show their gentle side only to their owners. Sometimes they can be shy and hide from other people.

However, some owners of torties say that all felines, regardless of their color and pattern, have a distinct personality. Also, they state that there are no significant genetic differences between torties and non-torties, so it doesn’t make much sense to say that torties have a special temperament.

How rare are tortoiseshell cats?

Tortoiseshell cats are quite common and are seen in many breeds, but the thing is that torties are a female-dominated tribe. So, about 1 in 3,000 tortoiseshell cats are male making male cats incredibly rare.

Do tortoiseshell cats get along with children and other pets?

Are tortoiseshell cats friendly? Tortoiseshell cats have their own unique personality, and the character of a pet depends on its parents, as well as owners and upbringing.

Actually, it is almost impossible to predict the behavior of a cat in certain situations. However, the friendliness and the degree of closeness with people and other animals can be determined by the breed.

There are lap cats that adore their owners, for example, tortoiseshell Ragdoll cats, Bobtails, American Shorthair tortoiseshell felines, tortoiseshell Persian cats, and there are more independent cats (British Shorthair, Scottish Fold, Norwegian Forest cats, and tortoiseshell Maine Coons).

What is the difference between a calico cat and a tortoiseshell cat?

Calico and tortoiseshell felines are often confused and are perceived as two tortoiseshell cats. The main difference between a tortoise cat and a calico cat is the color combinations they feature.

Thus, calico felines have three colors in their fur (white, black, and orange), whereas torties, in most cases, have black and red-orange hues. Fun fact: tortoiseshell markings are a variation of the calico pattern.

Editor’s note

Why are tortoiseshell cats so expensive?

Tortoiseshell cats may be rather expensive due to their distinctive coat pattern. A tortie will cost you between $1000 and $2000. Besides, the price of the cat with an eye-catching color combination is even higher.


Thus, tortoiseshell cats are absolutely gorgeous four-legged creatures that amaze cat lovers all over the world with their beauty and distinct temperament. They come in various patterns and breeds, they can be either sweet and affectionate or have a well-known tortitude. If you are ready to become a parent to a pet that will keep you on your toes, the small, mid-sized, or large torties are your perfect choice.