Dilute tortoiseshell Maine Coon (genetics explained)

The dilute tortoiseshell is a 'faded' tortoiseshell coat. It is as if all the bright tortoiseshell colours are faded and muted. It is a very popular coat type although relatively rare compared to the standard tortoiseshell coat. 

Dilute tortoiseshell Maine Coon photo by Robert Sijka
Dilute tortoiseshell Maine Coon. Photo by Robert Sijka.

Purely in terms of appearance of any object, the slightly worn and used look is attractive to a lot of people. I can think of many products which look better used than when brand new. The black Leica rangefinder camera comes to mind (I used to be a professional photographer).

Well, the dilute tortoiseshell coat of a domestic cat is a bit like that 😎😉. Some people like it and some don't like it as much as the brightly coloured original.

You may know that this appearance of diluted colours is due to a mutant form of the genes which normally ensure that the pigment granules are deposited evenly throughout the hair strands. In the "mutant form" the pigment granules are enlarged "and deposited unevenly in the hair shaft. This results in clumps of varying size along the length of the hair shaft. Segments of the hair may be very sparsely pigmented or even lack pigment altogether." The quote comes from Robinson's Genetics, the definitive book on cat genetics.

To the human eye this looks as if the coat is diluted. The gene which causes this allows more light to pass through the hair strand rendering those sections transparent. When you combine this with the colour of the pigment in the hair strand and you achieve this diluted appearance. 

It applies to all the tortoiseshell colours. These colours are black plus the orange tabby coat. In the normal tortoiseshell coat, the lighter, orange tabby areas are two toned and create the impression of a three-colour cat. The whole coat when diluted has the appearance we see in the photograph.

RELATED ARTICLE: What is a dilute coat color in cats?

Finally, this particular cat has that charming slightly human appearance. The expression is quizzical and gives the impression that she knows what is going on in the photo session of Robert Silka who is famous for being a photographer of extraordinary Maine Coon cats. I say 'she' because nearly all torties are female and the rare males are sterile.


  1. I used to have a kitty that looked exactly like this. Such a sweetheart ❤️


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