A Coat of Many Colors: How Feline Fur Gets Its Hues

A few weeks ago, I was researching cat genetics and how it affects coat color.  The reason for this research was that I needed to know what kind of kittens that my main character, Ginger, would give birth to.  And let me tell you, I’ve uncovered some fascinating info.

Don’t worry, I am not going to get all technical about it.  Far too many articles that I read did this, and they usually lost me when they did.  However, after my deep dive into genetics, I believe that I have surfaced with some pearls of knowledge that are worthy of the showcase, and here they are…

cat-1474271887TkxCalico Cats

First, I searched for information about calico cats, since Ginger is a calico.  I discovered that almost all calicoes are females.  This is because the genes that create black and orange fur are each on a certain, separate gene.  Females get two of this gene, while males receive only one.

Therefore, she-cats can be black and orange (calico), yet tom cats can never be that way.  

There are exceptions to this rule, but I promised to keep it simple, so let’s just ignore those.

But what about Ginger’s kittens? you might ask.  Well, I figured out that the kittens of a calico cat might be black, orange, or a combination of both, which is calico.  Of course, the exact chance of each color depends on what color the father was.  For example, if the father was black, then more kittens will probably be born black.

DSCN1513Tortoiseshell Cats 

Calico cats and tortoiseshell cats (“torties”) are very similar.  Both have black and orange fur.  Both are female only.  The reason for this is the same as it was for calicoes– the colors are on genes that only females get two of.

Really, the only difference between the two is that calicoes have white fur, while torties don’t.  If you examine the above picture of my tortie, Autumn, you’ll see that this is true.

On a side note, is it just me, or does the tortoiseshell coat look like marble?  Like a beautiful blend of black, dark brown, orange and cream fur.

For more information, check out my blog “11 Weird Cat Facts”, where I also discuss the following feature of white cats.

italiain-white-cat

White Cats 

According to the ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats, white cats are like a whitewashed wall.  They have a gene which over-rides the other color genes.  These “hidden genes” can be seen in the kittens of a white cat.

Furthermore, it is a little known fact that white cats have health problems.  They are often born blind, deaf, or both.

Although, come to think of it, owning a cat that is deaf is not such a terrible thing, really.  After all, it’s not like they come when they’re called anyway.

2085-1262866246J7Pl

Tabby Cats

Striped cats are called tabby cats.  Technically, you could call a tiger a tabby.  The tiger’s stripes act as camouflage, since the alternating pattern of light and dark blends well with the random sequences of light and shadow that one finds under the jungle canopy.

But back to house-cats.  All pussies have the tabby gene, states the ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats, just they don’t all show it.

If you want proof of this, place a black kitty under a bright light.  You will probably see faint stripes.  These “ghost markings” show that all felines carry the tabby gene.

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Colorpoint Cats

Notice how in the picture the ends of the limbs and tail, as well as the tips of the ears, are all dark brown, while the body is lighter?  This is called point coloration.  It is most common in Siamese cats, but other breeds can have it, too.  Even other animals, like horses and bunnies, can have point coloration.

Point coloration occurs when the enzyme (special protein) that controls dye mutates.  This means that something abnormal happens to it, and the enzyme is permanently changed as a result.

Suddenly, the enzyme can only activate at temperatures that are cooler than normal.  If you’ve ever petted a kitty, you’ve most likely noticed that the ears are cold, whereas the tummy is warm (also, after touching the tummy, you probably noticed that the claws are sharp).

But anyway, it is this temperature difference that causes the extremities to turn dark brown, while the warm core stays tan.

However, the temperature in a Siamese cat’s womb is all evenly warm.  Thusly, Siamese kittens are not born with point coloration; they are born all white.

Now, please excuse me while I go look up pictures of adorable Siamese kittens.  So cute…

 

References

– Wikipedia (article title: “Point Coloration”)

– ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats: Everything You Need to Know About Choosing and Caring for Your Pet

http://www.acsh.org (http://www.acsh.org/news/2016/07/27/calico-cats-are-a-walking-genetics-lesson)

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