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also tor·toise shell  (tôr′tĭs-shĕl′)
a. The mottled, horny, translucent, brownish covering of the carapace of certain tortoises or turtles, especially the hawksbill, formerly widely used to make combs, jewelry, and other articles.
b. A synthetic imitation of natural tortoiseshell.
2. See hawksbill.
3. A domestic cat having a coat with irregular patches of different colors, usually black and reddish-orange.
4. Any of several butterflies, chiefly of the genus Nymphalis, having wings with orange, black, and brown markings.

tor′toise-shell′ adj.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
Edmund accordingly received instructions to open the tortoise-shell box, and give Mr Merdle the tortoise-shell knife.
Behind a desk, sat two old gentleman with powdered heads: one of whom was reading the newspaper; while the other was perusing, with the aid of a pair of tortoise-shell spectacles, a small piece of parchment which lay before him.
The old gentleman in the tortoise-shell spectacles looked at his companion, he nodded significantly.
"Ivan Petrovitch and I settled in Alexey's study," she said in answer to Stepan Arkadyevitch's question whether he might smoke, "just so as to be able to smoke"--and glancing at Levin, instead of asking whether he would smoke, she pulled closer a tortoise-shell cigar-case and took a cigarette.
A Boston newspaper reporter went and took a look at the Slave Ship floundering about in that fierce conflagration of reds and yellows, and said it reminded him of a tortoise-shell cat having a fit in a platter of tomatoes.
'Take away that 'ere bag from the t'other madman,' said Sam to Ben Allen and Bob Sawyer, who had done nothing but dodge round the group, each with a tortoise-shell lancet in his hand, ready to bleed the first man stunned.
What can be more singular than the relation between blue eyes and deafness in cats, and the tortoise-shell colour with the female sex; the feathered feet and skin between the outer toes in pigeons, and the presence of more or less down on the young birds when first hatched, with the future colour of their plumage; or, again, the relation between the hair and teeth in the naked Turkish dog, though here probably homology comes into play?
One looked at me through her tortoise-shell eyeglass.
She put on her great round spectacles with tortoise-shell rims and sat down to her letter.
After looking sharply through a large pair of tortoise-shell spectacles, first at Mercy, then at the bed, then all round the room, he turned with a cynical composure of manner to the Prussian officer, and broke the silence in these words:
Elegant buffets made by Boulle, also purchased by the auctioneer, furnished the sides of the room, at the end of which sparkled the brass arabesques inlaid in tortoise-shell of the first tall clock that reappeared in the nineteenth century to claim honor for the masterpieces of the seventeenth.
Defence barrister Lorcan Staines asked Det Gda Keane and Gda Stapleton about the broken tortoise-shell item.