Last month, one of our female cats gave birth to four (4) kittens. Two males and two females. One of the female kittens has beautiful blue eyes. And one of the male kittens has heterochromia: one eye is blue and the other is green!
What is heterochromia?
Dr. Pete Wedderburn, in his article “Heterochromia In Cats: Cats With Different Colored Eyes” (8 Sept. 2022), says that although David Bowie and a few other notable individuals have heterochromia, it is rather common in many other animals, including cats, dogs, horses, cattle, rabbits, and ferrets.
Wedderburn claims that heterochromia affects cats frequently. However, it affects white cats more frequently. Heterochromia is uncommon in cats with black or dark-colored coats. This is due to the part melanin plays in how the color of a coat and eyes develops.
Ok, so the odd-colored pair of eyes is not so rare. What stunned us was the fact that our kitten with this pair of eyes is a male and is…a calico! Now, this rare kind of cats I am familiar with since I was a kid.
What are calico cats and how rare are they?
Calico cats are cats with three colors for their coats. When I was still a child, I often heard our grandparents say, “swerte ang lalaking pusa na tatlong kulay.” They talked of how lucky it was to have a male calico cat. They truly believed it would give them a lot of luck if they had one born or adopted to them.
Laura Moss, in her article, “Why Are Male Calico Cats So Rare?” (18 July 2022), says the term “calico” refers to a pattern of a cat that may have any three colors—white, cream, and grey, or the more popular white, orange, and black combination—rather than a specific breed of cat.
Every now and then, a male cat will grow an additional chromosome and come out with a distinctive tricolored coat. Moss tells us that, typically, only females have the chromosomal combination required for the calico pattern. Only one in every 3,000 chances exists for this to occur! Now, that is a rare chance, I must say.
Furthermore, Moss says that calico tomcats are extremely uncommon due to genetics. Cats’ coat color is often a sex-related feature, meaning that specific chromosomes are color-coded. Because the gene that determines those hues is located on the X chromosome, both male and female cats can be orange (due to a mutant mutation) or black. Males, who have one X and one Y chromosome, can only have one color unless they have a genetic disorder, in contrast to females, who can have both hues because they have two X chromosomes. Then there are three chromosomes present, including two X chromosomes.
Three sex chromosomes—two Xs and a Y—are required for a male cat to exhibit a calico pattern. The XXY combination can occur when the male’s XY chromosomal pair fails to divide completely after conception. This occurrence can occur in both humans and animals, and it is known as Klinefelter syndrome in both cases, says Moss.
Although every cat is unique, Moss says that male calico cats with Klinefelter syndrome frequently have a number of health issues that reduce their lifespan. The syndrome is frequently accompanied by issues including increased body fat, which causes diabetes, joint discomfort, and heart disease. It is possible for male Calico cats with Klinefelter’s Syndrome to live full and happy lives, but they may need special care to aid them with these challenges.
The folklore with calico cats
My grandparents believed calico cats are lucky charms. Well, they are not the only ones to have such a belief. Over the years, calicos have given rise to several myths and superstitions.
For all beauty-conscious people out there, Moss tells us that a calico cat’s tail is said to be able to remove warts in Irish folklore. Hmmm… I have wart problems. My wart problems are solved!
Maneki-Neko, the beckoning feline figure frequently seen in stores and restaurants, has a tricolor design because they have been a symbol of good fortune in Japan since the 19th century. Moss says, in 2015, 3,000 people showed up for the burial of a stationmaster in calico who was credited with boosting traffic at a Japanese train station.
Some other fun facts about male calico cats are shared by Emily Munden in her article, “50 Calico Cat Facts That Are Purrr-Fect” (27 October 2022). She says that around the world, calico cats are regarded as lucky and are used as good luck emblems. They are known as “Money Cats” in the US because people believe they will prosper financially.
Around the world, calico cats go by many different names. According to Munden, they are referred to as “lucky cats” in Germany and go by the name “Glückskatze.” the Dutch name for calico cats is “Lapjeskat,” which means “patches cat,” and the Japanese name “Mike Neko” means “triple fur.”
Calico cats cannot be actively bred, which is another reason why they are seen as lucky. As Munden says, a calico cat is a genetic oddity that only happens by accident because the calico is not a recognized cat breed. Their scarcity adds to their magical appeal.