The Unique Torbie

The term torbie is used to describe a tortoiseshell tabby cat. But these patched kitties are not to be confused with torties. What? Let me explain a bit.



A tabby is a cat with a very distinctive coat pattern, which may include stripes, whorls, spots and swirls. These markings do not necessarily show all at the same time. Interestingly, the tabby pattern is the most common among domestic cats and it can occur in different cat breeds. Tabbies come in different color variations.

A tortoiseshell (affectionately called tortie) is a cat whose coat shows two solid colors, usually black and red (also called orange). However, the tortoiseshell pattern does not show distinct patches of colors like the calico pattern. In a tortie, the two colors rather blend in together. Furthermore, tortoiseshell cats have very little or no white fur on their coats.

Some people confuse tortoiseshell cats with calicos, but calicos are true tricolor felines. The coats of calicos show three distinctive solid colors (one of them being white) whereas torties only have two.

Torbies are tortoishell cats with a tabby pattern. Simply put: add stripes to the two-color pattern of a tortie and voila, you have a torbie-cat. In other words, a tortie is a tortoiseshell tabby.

The coats of these patched felines have a very distinct tabby pattern all over their bodies. However, the tabby pattern will not appear on the white fur. And remember that tortoiseshell cats have very little or no white fur to begin with.

Interestingly enough, most tortoiseshell tabbies -just like calicos and torties- happen to be female, and it all has to do with genetics.

It is important to note that the tortoiseshell tabby is a color pattern and not a specific cat breed.

Torbies are beautiful felines. Indeed, they look like walking works of art. And they absolutely make great companions.

Color variations

Tortoiseshell tabbies, just like "regular" torties and calicos, come in different color patterns. These are the most common combinations:

Undiluted Patterns

--Brown or black tortoiseshell tabby (brown, red or orange, and may have some white)

--Chocolate tortoiseshell tabby (dark brown, red or orange, and some white)

--Cinnamon tortoiseshell tabby (cinnamon, red or orange, and some white)

Diluted Patterns

A dilution gene causes colors to become lighter. The most common diluted patterns of a tortoiseshell tabby are:

--Blue tortoiseshell tabby (blue, cream, and may have some white)

--Lilac tortoiseshell tabby (lilac, cream, and some white)

--Light yellow-brown (fawn) tortoiseshell tabby (fawn, cream, and white)

All these colors appear with a very distinctive tabby pattern. White fur is minimal in tortoiseshell tabbies, and as I mentioned before, the tabby pattern does not show on white fur.

The unique torbie cat also comes in the traditional tabby patterns such as the mackerel and classic patterns.

Resources and further reading...

--Cats Are Not Peas: A Calico History of Genetics by Laura L. Gould

--The Little Calico and Tortoiseshell Cat Book by David Taylor




Related Links

Tortoiseshell cats

Tabby cats

The Maltese Cat

Calico cats


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