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Norwich Bulletin - 10/18/2009

Loki - The Male Tortoiseshell Cat

The word tortoiseshell (Tortie) cat describes a coat coloring found almost exclusively in female cats. 99.9% of tri-colored cats are females. And if they happen to have tabby stripes, they are called Torbies. And if they have small patches of white on them they are called Tortie and white but if they have large patches of white, they are often called Calicos. But whatever they are called, they are generally female.

So I was very skeptical when a friend of mine called me from New York and told me that he had just found a Tortie and white kitten in a shelter and it was a male. I told him to go ahead and bring me the kitten, as I figured that whether male or female, I had two people waiting for a Tortie kitten and the little feline would go to a good home.

The reason tortoishell and calico coat colors result in belonging to female cats, is because the primary gene for coat color is located on the X chromosome and has two co-dominant alleles, orange and black. These two alleles produce the orange phaeomelanin and black eumelanin pigments. The cells of female cats, which like humans, have two X chromosomes and if the melanocytes that are the expressions of the pigment genes migrate to the skin surface early, they become intermingled, producing the characteristic brindle like appearance of orange and black cells all mixed together.

And in those cats that end up with the third color of white, some of the melanocytes delayed getting to the skin surface and the coat is white, which is a non-color. If all the melanocytes go by the wayside, we end up with an all white cat.

I personally have never cared for Tortie cats. They generally have what I refer to as the female red head gene, making them a bit hissy and many are even a bit standoffish. I have judged a large number of torties and they tend to have up and down personalities. I never know if they are going to play on the judge’s stand or try to take a chunk out of me. I am very wary when there is a growling tortoiseshell waiting for me to judge it.

So I was not looking to be enamored by this kitten that was on its way to my home. I have rescued and placed hundreds of torties and have never been tempted to keep one. When the kitten arrived to my house a few days later, it was not a Tortie but a Torbie and white kitten, with clear tiger stripe markings. A very flashy kitten and much to my surprise, very much a male. The kitten had no attitude and a wonderful personality and I knew right then and there he wasn’t going anywhere. Of course that was going to be our little secret until I found a way to convince my husband we really needed a kitten!

When he went to the vet to get checked out and have his third distemper shot, my husband took him. He came back very excited. Our vet, in thirty-five years, has only seen one male tortie and he wanted to adopt the kitten, as did at least three of the vet techs. I was very non committal and that gave Clint his first hint that maybe the little furball was not leaving our home.

How does one get a male bi-colored cat? Male cats, have only a single X chromosome that does not undergo X-inactivation. Since the coat color is determined by which allele is on the X, they will be either entirely black or entirely red. Very rarely is here a male tortie or torbie with white born. It usually happens because they have an extra X chromosome, which is a condition in human genetics, called Klinefelter Syndrome.

These cats, like humans, are almost always sterile because of the imbalance in sex chromosomes. Many people mistakenly think that a male tortie or torbie is going to be worth a lot of money. That is myth. While it is a rare phenomenon, it is basically a domestic cat who cannot even reproduce, and so is really not worth anything monetarily. What he is; is a conversation starter.

Now that we had a new kitten (my husband is a saint), he needed a name. The Pagan god of mischief was a shape shifter and a gender changer. And so this little male Torbie and White Kitten found his name – Loki. Loki will be shown as a household pet throughout the different states that I travel to for judging and he will cause a nice little stir. Judges will notice him, as spectators. They will look at their judging books more than once to make sure that the book truly says male – and they will check the card on his cage and see that it is most definitely blue, depicting a male.

It will be fun to watch and to answer people’s questions – most of them being the ones I wrote about in this column. But besides being a rarity, Loki also has the perfect personality to be one stage. Outgoing and friendly, he has the male tabby personality with the female Tortie flash. For those of your who did not meet him at our September show at Kelly Middle School, make an effort to meet him at the October Hartford Pet Expo cat show.

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