Male Tortoiseshell Cat Acts like a Masculinized Female Rather Than a true Male

Male tortoiseshell cats have feminine personality traits as described below. We know that the chances of finding a male tortoiseshell cat are very rare. I’ve seen various estimates as to their rarity. The lowest figure I’ve seen is about 200 to 1 and the highest about 10 times that or more. We also know that the tortoiseshell cat coat is sex-linked.

Eddie and Harry male tortoiseshell cats

Eddie and Harry male tortoiseshell cats. Harry: Lothian Cat Rescue. Eddie: Masons via Daily Mail

Why males can be torties

Normally only a female kitten can display black patches inherited from one parent and red tabby patches inherited from the other. The reason is that the genes controlling these colours are both carried on the X chromosomes. The red gene on one chromosome and the non-red gene is on the other. Only females have 2 X chromosome. Therefore only females can display the red and non-red tortoiseshell combination. Male cats have one X chromosome and one small Y chromosome. On their single X chromosome they carry either the red or the non-red gene but they can’t have both. Therefore, they are either a red tabby or allover black cats.

The reason why sometimes male cats can be tortoiseshell cats even though it is theoretically impossible is because a minor genetic error occurs and the male cat develops with a genetic combination XXY. The double X chromosome gives the cat a chance to be red and black and the Y chromosome gives the cat male characteristics. But Dr Morris says that the masculinity of these cats leaves a lot to be desired to use his own words. Male tortoiseshells are sterile and their behaviour is, he says, extremely odd. He says that they act like a “masculinized female” rather than a true male cat.

Rare male tortie up for adoption

Klinger a rare male tortoiseshell cat. Photo: DAX MELMER/WINDSOR STAR.

Useful links
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FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Feminine male tortoiseshell cat

He refers to one particular male tortoiseshell cat who was observed in a colony of cats. This cat had feminine personality characteristics. He was ‘nonchalant’ in his interactions with other cats. He disdainfully ignored the usual status battles which occur between male and females. There was little fighting along gender lines. Dr Morris refers to these male tortoiseshell cats as neither fully male nor fully female and therefore they do not feel the need to compete in pecking-order disputes over females.

With respect to spraying urine which is typical of unneutered male cats he did not start to do this is at the usual age. Also he did not attempt to mate with females in heat although he had the required anatomy to do so. He allowed young tom-cats to mount him and attempt to mate with him.

When this cat became older he showed some interest in females and wanted to mate with a few but not with real enthusiasm. He sprayed urine in a “desultory fashion”. At no stage did he behave like a proper tomcat. When he was kept isolated with a highly sexualised female cat he did mate with her several times but the female did not become pregnant, confirming his infertility.


There are some superstitions regarding male tortoiseshell cats. Apparently in Celtic countries it was considered a good omen if one decided to live in your home. And in England they believed that warts could be removed by simply rubbing them with the tail of a tortoiseshell tomcat during the month of May. I wrote a page about the value of male tortoiseshell-and-white cats and the argument is that they aren’t valuable because of their infertility. However, Japanese fishermen pay huge sums for a tortoiseshell tomcat to keep as a ship’s cat. They believe (or believed) that male torties protect the crew from the ghosts of their ancestors and the vessel from storms.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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9 Responses

  1. Caroline Gifford says:

    Here’s another possible topic: the Salmonella strains. We’re pretty much immune. [Huge plus.] That’s why I know I can lick my cat’s face. I can also prove it, for myself, anyway. And here’s another topic. Have you asked any mice what they transfer to cats when they are eaten? 😉 Tell your readers. It’s truly humorous. Another thing. My Shrimpie smiled all the time with me. We could exchange *yawns* ho-hum back and forth for thirty seconds. I just wish that I could lay my ears back the way he could. God, I miss him so very much. Eh

    • Caroline Gifford says:

      Tears are making my cheeks cry right now, sorry. He meant the entire Multiverse to me.

      • Caroline Gifford says:

        That is him, my Avatar. Hey. I’m using a phone, Michael. I have no CompuServe, nothing in my apartment. So I can’t always see your website. Please tell them about adopting. They really don’t want what they see. They want what they truly appreciate.

  2. FRANCES A DANNA says:

    Great article, Michael. The XXY chromosome link to a male tortoiseshell cat’s color and personality traits makes perfect sense. I love reading the folklore surrounding them.?

  3. Cat's Meow says:

    Very interesting. If the red gene is on the X chromosome, why is it rare to have female ginger tabbies?

    • Michael Broad says:

      25% are female. Not that rare.

      • Caroline Gifford says:

        Are you sure, Michael? I doubt it’s 25. Where did you get that? I’m thinking more like 10. As far as the tortoiseshell kittens, I be never even seen a male. Wow. Shows how much I know. Nothing. My grandmother had a lot of people on the farm, and I never saw a single male. Who vets these statistics? Thanks. I had no clue. Well, shows how much I’ve ever known. Aspergers hasn’t helped me much.

        • Caroline Gifford says:

          Cats, not “people.” Which you probably gathered. I have a topic. This may be over the top for most, but I think it’s okay to lick your cat on the face, because it just doesn’t seem like enough to gently pull their fur like their mommacat did? Is there anyone out there who’s done this, besides me? Also, it is so much more fun to play together if you get down on all fours as an equal. Am I the *only* one who does this?

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