'Patchwork' Maine Coon Cat Is Actually a Rare Genetic Chimera

Shutterstock / Kristina Savelieva

A video of an oddly colored cat is causing a stir online as people debate whether its strange, patchwork coloration is just another type of calico cat or whether it is indicative of an even more rare genetic variation—one known but eh name of an ancient mythological monster known as a chimera. Watch the video below to see where you stand on what is obviously the most important issue of the day: what exactly is this cat?

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The cat in question is a beautiful, healthy-looking Maine Coon cat with an unusual color pattern in that it has patches of gray on an otherwise orange tabby coat, and also has a dramatic split in colors down the center of his head as well as two different colored eyes. While it is not uncommon for tricolor cats to have a split face like this, and many things can cause heterochromia (two different eye colors) in cats, the real clue that this cat is a chimera is that it’s also a male.

Related: Maine Coon Kitten's Classic Orange Cat Behavior Is Cracking People Up

How Does Cat Coat Genetics Work?

Cat coat genetics is a complicated issue, as the color of a cat’s coat is controlled by several different genes, some which are linked to the sex of the cat and some which are not. First of all, most basic cat colors are determined by one of two genes marking them orange or black. The genes appear on the X chromosome, of which females have two copies and males only one. This is why most orange cats are male (one copy of the orange gene from their mother on the X chromosome) but nearly all tricolor cats (calico) or tortoiseshell cats (black and orange) are female. This is because those cats get two x chromosomes, one of which has the orange gene on it and one of which has the black, and both are expressed in the cat. It is extremely rare for a male cat to be orange and black, and indicates that this cat has an extra X chromosome or is a chimera.

In addition to these genes markings, there is a second, completely separate gene which determines whether this coloration shows up at full strength (orange or black) or diluted (cream or gray). This gene is recessive and unrelated to sex, and it appears that the cat in this video has both a full color gene (orange) and a dilution gene (gray), which should not be possible, unless he’s a chimera.

You think that's complicated? Wait until you get into white and striped markings!

What is Chimerism?

Chimerism is rare condition in which two zygotes fuse into a single embryo, making one organism from what should have been siblings. It can occur in all kinds of species, including, very rarely in humans. Chimeras were named for a mythological monster that was a combination of several different animals. In actual living things, it is a single organism that bears the genetics of more than one individual.

In cats, chimerism is often revealed by the animal having an appearance that would go against regular genetic understanding, such as this cat’s bright orange but dilute black markings, as well as the fact that it’s an orange and black (gray) cat who is also a male. The final piece of the puzzle indicating that it’s most likely a chimera is that it has two different colored eyes, as well as a notable division down the center of its face, showing that different halves of its heads are rules by two different genetic codes.

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