Why Orange Cats Are So Special, According to Science (2024)

Why Orange Cats Are So Special, According to Science (1)

Cat owners report that orange cats are friendlier

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Orange cats are thought to be the friendliest of all cats, but is this just a myth? Self-report surveys indeed suggest that orange cats are more affectionate. This finding, however, could be a result of confirmation bias or a self-fulfilling prophecy, with cat owners looking to support their own stereotypes.

Yet, there are other plausible reasons why orange cats may be more affectionate. The gene responsible for the orange color is sex-linked, resulting in a much higher likelihood that an orange cat will be male versus female. Although the research is far from definitive, male cats have been said to be slightly friendlier than female cats, which could explain the loving nature of orange cats. Accordingly, “tortitude” may be partially explained by the fact that tortoiseshell cats are almost always female.

But might there be another reason, besides gender, that explains the unique behavior of orange cats? Pontier et al. (1995) conducted a study examining the frequency of the orange gene variant among cat populations, finding that orange cats may differ from other cats in a number of ways.

To conduct their study, the researchers sampled from 30 cat populations in France from 1982 to 1992, collecting data on 56-491 cats from each population. They found three interesting trends with regard to orange cats.

1. Orange cats are more common in rural (less dense) as opposed to urban environments. This finding suggests that orange cats may enjoy greater reproductive success in particular social conditions. In rural environments, the mating system of cats is more polygynous, meaning that while male cats tend to mate with multiple female cats, females tend to mate with only one male. Meanwhile, in urban environments, both female and male cats have multiple mates.

Why Orange Cats Are So Special, According to Science (2)

Orange cats may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors that result in death

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2. Orange cats are less common in areas with greater mortality risk. This finding indicates that orange cats may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors that result in death.

3. Orange cats show greater sexual dimorphism. Orange males weigh more than cats of other colors, and orange females weigh less than cats of other colors. This pattern has been documented previously in Australia.

These intriguing patterns led the researchers to come up with a theory – that due to physical and behavioral differences, orange cats (the male cats in particular) may rely on a different reproductive strategy. Specifically, since they are larger in size (and likely more aggressive given previously documented links between a male cat's body size and aggression towards other cats), orange male cats may enjoy greater social status and thus reproductive success in rural locations where females typically only mate with one male.

Why Orange Cats Are So Special, According to Science (3)

Orange male cats may be more socially dominant, leading to greater reproductive success in rural areas

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However, in urban environments, their social status may not get them as far. In these dense environments, female cats tend to mate with many male cats. As a result, reproductive success is dependent on sperm competition rather than physical competition between male cats. Therefore, in an urban environment, the competitive nature of orange male cats may heighten their risk of death (e.g., through fights with cats or other animals), thus driving down the proportions of orange cats. This idea is supported by past findings that larger male cats are more dominant and aggressive, resulting in both greater reproductive success and greater mortality risk.

Although these color-based behavioral associations may seem odd, they are found among other animals including rodents and birds (as reviewed in Pontier et al., 1995). Certain genes responsible for behavior or other physical attributes (e.g., body size) may be inherited alongside those responsible for fur color.

This study identifies several unique characteristics of orange cats, however, it does not explain why orange cats are friendlier to humans. If this stereotype is true, might it be attributed to the risk-taking behaviors of these special cats? Perhaps orange male cats, due to their dominant status and bold personalities, feel more comfortable with approaching humans, who often frighten timid cats. Future studies can investigate whether this might be the case.

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Pontier, D., Rioux, N., & Heizmann, A. (1995). Evidence of selection on the orange allele in the domestic cat Felis catus: the role of social structure. Oikos, 73, 299-308. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3545954

Why Orange Cats Are So Special, According to Science (2024)


Why Orange Cats Are So Special, According to Science? ›

The study found evidence from their behavior which found that cats with orange hair were reported to be more affectionate. Citing Psychology Today, the gene responsible for the color orange is linked to sex proves orange cats are predominantly male.

What is the science behind orange cats? ›

The other reason that orange cats are orange is that the color is carried through the X chromosome. Because a female cat has two X chromosomes, they need the color to come through from both their mother and father; because a male cat has an X and a Y chromosome, they need only get the orange chromosome from their mom.

What is the significance of the orange cat? ›

They represent optimism and strength

The orange cat is also a powerful symbol of optimism and determination. No matter what obstacles you have to overcome, you can be sure of yourself and your abilities. The presence of the red cat in your life gives you the strength of mind to overcome anything.

Is Orange cat special? ›

We have to admit, there's something special about orange cats that's hard to put our finger on. We love them for their unique spirit, playful spunk, and charming antics. Plus, their gorgeous coat color doesn't hurt.

Are orange cats genetically friendly? ›

Orange Tabbies Are More Affectionate

While acknowledging that this finding “could be a result of confirmation bias or a self-fulfilling prophecy,” it explains that due to genetics orange tabbies are predominantly male (80%) and male cats are thought to be “slightly friendlier than female cats.”

What color cat is the friendliest? ›

When comparing the cats by coat color, gray cats had the highest scores for shyness, aloofness and intolerance, while orange cats had the highest scores for trainability, friendliness and calmness. Tabby cats had the highest scores for bold and active, tricolor cats for stubborn, and bicolor cats for tolerant.

Why are orange cats the most friendly? ›

According to a review by Karen Wu, Ph. D., assistant professor of psychology at California State University, LA, the risk-taking behavior of male orange cats makes him dominant. Their bold personality makes them feel more comfortable approaching humans and often scares shy cats.

What personality do ginger cats have? ›

Ginger cats are perceived to be friendlier and more affectionate with humans. A study conducted in 2012 revealed that based on cat owner perception, gingers are regarded as the most affectionate with their guardians and have been lovingly dubbed 'Velcro cats'!

Are orange female cats special? ›

Female cats that are orange in color are very rare. On average, only 1 in 5 orange cats will be female. In local populations, these numbers can be far higher or lower depending on the gene pool.

Which gender of orange cat is rare? ›

The orange color is more prominent in male cats than female cats, so I would say that an orange-colored female cat would be a rare color (for a female). It's the same as how most calicos are female and a less amount of them are male.

How long do orange cats live? ›

How long does an orange tabby cat live? Generally speaking, the average indoor housecat has a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years. Providing your tabby with a healthy diet and routine veterinary care can help maximize his lifespan.

Why do orange cats behave differently? ›

The facts: Does being orange really influence cat behavior? The fact is, at least according to science, there is no such thing as orange cat behavior. “To date, no studies have shown any impact of coat color on personality in cats,” veterinary behaviorist Dr. Mikel Delgado tells The Wildest.

What is the attitude of an orange cat? ›

Orange cats are believed to be fun and friendly

He also reports that in his own experience, the orange cats he's encountered "tend to have a very strong will and sometimes can be quite stubborn," and notes that some people believe that orange cats are "more likely to engage in risky behaviors."

What are orange cats called? ›

Ginger cats are hard to miss. Also called red, orange, orange tabby, marmalade, tiger-cat and cinnamon, this distinctive feline can certainly strike a charismatic pose. From 9Lives Morris to Garfield to Puss in Boots, ginger cats are some of the most celebrated felines in television and film.

How do cat color genetics work? ›

“In cats, the red and black colors are on the X chromosome,” Hicks explained. Because females carry two X chromosomes and males carry only one X chromosome, the likelihood of a cat receiving both black and red genes is much higher with a female cat.

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