A Feral Family Tree: A Genetics Guessing Game

If you are neither interested in cats or genetics—you might want to skip this one. I couldn’t help myself.

BACKGROUND: I have been a tad bit busy the past week in an unexpected adventure. I live in a semi rural area that over the past few years was adopted by a few feral cats. About 2 years ago my daughter, who used to be involved in animal rescue, helped trap & catch a momma cat and her litter of seven. Our combined families adopted all seven! But Momma had an earlier litter that went mostly missing. There was one named “Cakes” who was Black and White spotted, but we have not seen in a long while (never caught so un-fixed). Momma also has been missing although she IS fixed. Momma Kitty was a Calico.

Cakes photo courtesy of Carol Hennessey

Then a month or so ago 3 young adults began showing up and making the rounds. Not sure if they were from the earlier litter, but could be. Well before you could blink an eye one had a litter in a neighbor’s shed. So with help from The Ripple Effect Animal Project we set out to trap these cats. Now less than a week later, we have trapped the 3 young adults, trapped a bonus 2 month old kitten (daughter of one of the 3) and captured all 4 of the new Momma cat’s offspring. So what does that have to do with genetics? It turns out more than you think.

Well I couldn’t help but reflect on the sum total of these cats (12 total) and what they show about genetics. This is not scientific but it is informative. So to start we have 3 adult cats for which I do not have photos. One was a male orange long hair classic tabby, one a female long haired calico and one a male short haired Gray with white feet. There are basically two colorations that create all the different cat colors we see. Basically Red and Black. (white being the absence of pigmentation). Who knew? More on cat color genetics here.


The two Tom’s had no names and were not in our close vicinity though we saw them on walks. Unfortunately they were both the victims of the adjacent Highway. The middle one the Calico was called “Momma Kitty” She had 2 litters we know of but the first litter I am uncertain of how many offspring she had. Most disappeared—whether to coyotes or what not we do not know or perhaps the 3 recent cats are part of that original litter. Cakes pictured at the top we know was her offspring, so potentially the first litter may have looked like this. (I believe there was also a calico).



The next litter she had 7 kittens as follows: 2 Female Gray shorthairs with white markings, 1 female long haired calico, 1 female shorthair white with gray spots (not pictured), 1 orange male long haired classic tabby, 2 Black and white male shorthairs. So we know the likely father of the male orange tabby is likely the orange tom. In fact in nearly has to be because of the needed color and that long hair is recessive so both Mom and Dad need a long haired allele. In fact about 81 percent of orange cats are male. And the grays are likely from the gray Tom—the black and white, gray and white and calico are likely coming from Mom’s patterning (as a calico she has all 3 colors), so she can express any of these colors in her offspring.

Second litter (gray with white spots not visible)

Fast forward two years and we have 3 young cats roaming the area. One gray with white stockings (just like the Gray Tom), one white with tabby markings and one black and white. We are not sure where they came from precisely but they may be the missing youngsters from first litter.


Ashley + Roger =

Smoky 8 week (female) almost identical to Ashley (She has a gray chin, Mom’s is white; both have white socks)

Savvy + Roger=

Savvy & Roger’s Kittens about 4.5 weeks

And hopefully this is the end of our mini-feral cat family tree! The kittens are being socialized and will be put up for adoption once they are fixed. The 3 young cats: Roger, Savvy and Ashley and 8 week Smoky have been spayed and neutered. The first three have been released back into the neighborhood. Smoky was young enough and she is very friendly, so is being socialized and will be adopted. The moral is to Trap, Neuter and Release! (TNR). If you remove all the cats more ferals will take their place. If you do nothing you will have dozens of cats in short order. If you can capture feral kittens they can be socialized in the first 4-8 weeks. After that it becomes increasingly more difficult.

It’s all genetics— each one is a unique expression! I promise next post will be back to human genealogy.

Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2021 . All RIghts Reserved.

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