Like snowflakes, no two cats are truly alike. Each one has its own unique personality, quirks, and appearance. But for all that variety, did you know that every cat's coat derives from just two colors? It's true — all cat colors are derived from black and red, or some combination of the two. Despite that bizarre fact, there's no denying that cats can come in a dazzling array of colors and patterns, often the result of selective breeding, genetic mutation, and the introduction of new cat species.
Another fact: All cats possess the tabby gene. While not every cat's tabby genetics give way to a striped tabby coat pattern, tabby coats are the most common type of coat in cats. There are four types of tabby coats. The classic, or blotched, tabby coat features wide stripes in a circular, marbled pattern. Mackerel tabbies have thinner vertical stripes running down the side, with a thicker stripe along the back. Ticked tabbies have fur with individual bands of color but no stripes apart from on their faces, legs, and tails. Spotted tabbies are exactly what they sound like — a variation with spots instead of stripes.
Tortoiseshell cats are a mixed blend of red and black. They can also come in dilute patterns, most often blue and cream. Tortoiseshell cats are almost exclusively female — while male tortoiseshell cats do exist, they're extremely rare and often sterile. Tortoiseshell cats can have a mixture of tortoiseshell and tabby patterns, which are sometimes referred to as "torbies."
A pointed coat pattern is when a cat has lighter-colored fur with darker patches on the face, ears, legs, and tail. This pattern is what gives Siamese cats and related breeds their signature appearance. Color point cats are born without their darker markings, which develop with age. These markings are thought to be linked to body temperature, developing on the coldest parts of the body — in fact, one scientific experiment placed color point cats in a warm room and found that these darker patches never developed.
Bicolor cats, like their name indicates, have coats made up of two different colors. One of these is always white, but the amount of white doesn't matter. Bicolor cats that are mostly white with small patches of another color are referred to as "vans," stemming from their origin in the Lake Van area of Turkey. Other types of bicolor patterns include magpies, which have random spots, harlequins, which have random spots and a colored tail, and cap and saddle, which have a colored head and saddle-like pattern on their back.
Tricolor cats, also known as calicos, are composed of three colors — red, black, and white. Like tortoiseshell cats, these colors can be diluted, showing as cream and blue. Much like bicolor cats, they can have white on their coat, too. Calico cats share a lot in common with tortoiseshells: their coloring comes from specific chromosomes, meaning that tricolor cats are also nearly always female.
Another type of pattern is a shaded coat, which starts out white at the base and grows darker at the tips of the fur. There are three types of shaded cats: chinchilla, smoke, and shaded. In chinchillas, only the very tip of the outer coat is colored. In smoke-patterned cats, the top fur is light and the undercoat is dark; these cats can often appear to be solid colored when not moving. In shaded-patterned cats, around half the fur is light and the other half is dark or smoked.
Red fur on cats is more commonly called orange or ginger. Ginger cats appear to be solid orange or have subtle patterns and markings including spots and stripes. Orange is one of the most common solid coat colors and, unlike tortoiseshells or calicos, most orange cats — roughly 80 percent — are male.
White cats are extremely rare — it's estimated that as little as 5 percent of cat breeds include white cats. Most apparently white cats are not truly white; pure white cats lack melanin pigmentation that colors their fur and eyes. Popular white cat breeds include the Sphynx, British shorthair, Cornish Rex, and Turkish Angora. Near-white alternatives include cream, tan, and fawn coats.
Cats that appear gray are officially known as blue. Like any coat color other than red and black, gray cats are a result of dilution and are actually a diluted black. The Russian blue is probably the most famously solid-colored gray cat, with other breeds including Korat and Chartreux, as well as Burmese and British shorthairs, which come in a range of solid colors.
Did you know that black cats are more likely to be left at a shelter than any other color? Sadly, not everyone thinks that black cats' spooky reputation of being "bad luck" is a joke. Apart from this myth, however, it's easy to agree that black cats are striking. There are 22 breeds that can produce solid black cats, famously including the Bombay, which comes only in black and is commonly known as the miniature black panther. And if you're a fan of black cats, you should know that there's a Black Cat Appreciation Day, recognized every year on August 17th. Now that's something to celebrate!
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