Making sense of your cat


The title lies. Nothing can make sense of a cat. I don’t even know why I have a cat at home — I blame the brain parasites.

While the mind of the cat is imponderable, at least we can understand coat colors, right? Mine is black with a white spot at the throat. Simple? No, not at all: you need to read this page that categorizes cat coat colors and patterns and sink into the madness. All that variability! The simple genetic models all talk about eumelanin and phaeomelanin expression as covering all the bases, but nope, that’s not sufficient.

I’ve shown this to my genetics students. I’m just teaching introductory genetics, but I occasionally like to point out to them that there is a level at which genetics becomes far more mind-blowing.


  1. themadtapper says

    <3 torbies. My Maine Coons are both torbies (one somewhere between black and chocolate, one cinnamon). Their mother was a gorgeous brindled tortoise-shell.

  2. blf says

    Chocolate & Cinnamon cats are quite tasty. However, peel them first to get rid of the fur, claws, and meow, none of which is particularly edible.

  3. laurentweppe says

    The title lies. Nothing can make sense of a cat.

    On a contrary, making sense of a cat is very easy: every cat is a loathsome slaver who see humans as food & litter dispensing automatons.

  4. karmacat says

    Cats are not only slavers ubt they also make you think you like being a slave.

    I had a cat who had a ticked coat (3 colors per hair) and white who had 6 kittens (didn’t know she was pregnant). One is black and white long-haired, 2 are gray and white long haired, 2 have ticked coats and one was a brown tabby with long hair. Four of them had a smudge of dark color near their noses

  5. The Mellow Monkey says

    I believe my cat’s coat is a blue-based caramel ticked tabby. Mostly she’s just “the furry little asshole.”

  6. immunogoblin says

    speaking of coat colors, I was recently in Mexico and noticed some large rodent creatures. When I got near enough to see the coloration up close, I thought to myself “aha! this animal must be an agouti!”… who said grad school genetics class would never help outside of the lab?

  7. azhael says

    Yes, show them ball python morphs next, and use the opportunity to teach them about animal welfare ethics. Use the ball pythons as an example of how disgustingly capricious and unethical we can be when breeding animals for profit. Sure, the genetics are fascinating, but so is the selective blindness of people who don’t give a fuck about the animal, just it’s rarity and monetary value. It’s also a visually stunning way of showing them how captivity and artificial selection can open up a whole new level of what constitutes fitness. It’s a level in which neurological disorders and deformed spines get you a first class ticket to reproductionville.

  8. Trebuchet says

    It’s important to note that when discussing cat colors, “blue” means “gray” and “red” means “orange”.

    One of ours is a blue-seal bicolor-mitted ragdoll, as described by the breeder. Excuse me, she says it’s time for her brushing now.

  9. Rowan vet-tech says

    PZ’s kitty, being female, has 2 black genes and the white spotting gene. At my work we had a dominant white mama that gave birth to 3 calicos and another dominant white baby. Underneath the white, mom could have been either orange or black (with a black or orange sire, respectively) and possibly a tortie herself, but that’s less likely as none of her female offspring were a single color except the little dominant white baby.

    I love nerding out over feline coat color genetics at my work.

  10. magistramarla says

    My husband’s cat is a polydactyl Maine Coon. Seven toes on one front paw and six on all the rest. He also has a big ego and an attitude. He bosses my German Shepherd and my cat around.
    My cat is what is often called a flame-point Siamese. He has blue eyes and mostly white fur, with some orange tabby markings showing through to make those flame points.
    They are both very friendly, cuddly cats. Sometimes, I think they think they are dogs.

  11. redwood says

    My wife has two gorgeous calicoes, sisters whose brother was an orange tabby and they have stripes in their orange and gray furry parts. They stupendously ignore me except when I get near them and then they run away. Oh, except when I feed them, then they seem to like me just fine.

  12. jazzbot says

    PZ, the brain parasites are transmitted by cats to help them integrate into human society as nascent overlords. The parasites also make you act cool – just ask any cat or cat person. After they take control, however, only the true cats will be cool.

  13. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    PZ, the brain parasites are transmitted by cats to help them integrate into human society as nascent overlords.

    Is THAT what the “+ C” stands for?

  14. Al Dente says

    redwood @16

    Oh, except when I feed them, then they seem to like me just fine.

    This is a common characteristic of cats.

  15. rq says

    I have a tabby calico. Or calico tabby. Torbico? Okay, then, torbico. And only after we acquired her (or she adopted us?) did I realize that tabby stripes are not formed by alternating, solid-coloured strips of fur (it’s agouti, instead).
    The other cat wears a tuxedo.
    All the fucking time.

    Also, every time I thought that page would end, it didn’t. So many colours!!!

  16. carlie says

    I have a grey cat. But now I have no idea what color she is.

    Previous cat was a no-white dark tortie. (her mom was also a tortie; her brother was pure white).

  17. roachiesmom says

    The biomom of most of my furkids was a long-haired tabby calico. She was one of the most beautiful cats I have ever seen. Until her, I’d have no idea calico cats could also have tabby markings. Because I could never capture her, I did my best to adopt everything she spawned after ritual Kitten Fairy Summonings until she just disappeared. So I have Lucyfurr, a female red and white tabby; quads Samhain (solid male red tabby), Dain (red/white male tabby), Corson (grey/white male tabby bearing a striking resemblance to Roach, the furbrother he never met) and Amy (longhaired, fluffy brown tabby/tortoiseshell female); Jezebeth (shorthair calico with a perfect black toupee she needs a kitler mustache for, and the most disappointing calico markings ever, but she’s a sweetheart …with a feisty temper), Drake (Tuxedo male), and triplets Hunter, Harvest, and Sailor — all male, two solid reds and a tux.

    Yeah, and they’re in addition to my furquints, who just turned ten: Will, Ethan/Spike, Cordy, Buffy, and Angel. Four quints are tux with almost identical markings, middle child Cordelia is solid black. Chase is also solid black — the biomom a tortoisehell, and his twin, RJ was a big raccoon-looking tabby the image of their father who was also the quints’ paternal parent.

    Why yes, some of my kids are named after demons, why do you ask? : ) And no new kids since my human daughter-spawn rescued young Finnegan over two years ago, and foisted him off on me, too.

    I was shocked and greatly amused to find Amy’s name on an internet list of christian demons. Cory’s came from the same list. The Maine Coon is strong in all them. They are all terrifyingly smart.

    As a child, I had a fursister — her biomom was also a calico. The litter was (in birth order) brown tabby (she lived to be 20); silver grey/while tabby, and three with very Siamese markings, all five female. The tabby was born solid black and changed after a few weeks. Does anyone know if this is a Thing? Because my mother and I were out of town when the change occurred, and my father was absolutely not the kind of guy who’d think ‘oh, hell the one my daughter was keeping ran off/died; I’ll switch it with a new one, and she’ll never know’.

  18. Rowan vet-tech says

    Sometimes if a tabby is a particularly dark tabby, they can appear ‘black’ or solid brown until they grow up a bit. We had one such at my work that I called ‘Tribble’, and he was hoooomely up until he was about 10 weeks old. Gorgeous classic brown tabby with black markings once he grew up a bit.

  19. Rowan vet-tech says

    And, I figure, if my dog could change color form very stereotypical catahoula markings to primarily black-and-tan from age 2 years to 3… I’m sure cats can do weird things too.

  20. Al Dente says

    roachiesmom @22

    The tabby was born solid black and changed after a few weeks. Does anyone know if this is a Thing?

    We had a kitten which did something similar. He was born black with very faint brown stripes and by the end of three months he was a definite brown and black tabby.

  21. roachiesmom says

    In my experience, cats do plenty of weird things. : )

    Thanks for the replies. The quints all have deep chocolate undercoats and some definite striping, but it’s hard to see unless they are lounging in sunshine spots. But they all remained primarily basic black, as did Chase, Drake, and Sailor, so it made me wonder.

  22. twincats says

    My cat is black with a little sprinkle of white hairs on his chest. When you look at him in a certain light, he turns orange-brown. Does this make him brown? His skin is greyish white, if it makes a difference.

  23. says

    I’ve got one of ’em Tuxedo cats (black cat with low-grade white spotting, level 4) with yellow eyes. His sister was “all black” but at angles in the right light she’d look almost red with stripes.