A longstanding misconception holds that bulls are angered by the color red, which is why matadors use capes of this color in bullfights.
Bulls Hate Red
It is a classic myth perhaps perpetuated by classic films, that the mere sight of the color red can send a bull into a charging frenzy. This idea came from the fact that matadors use red capes, which led to the misconception that it was the color of the cape which led to the bull’s charging.
Bulls are known to be colorblind for red and green, and tests have shown that they are not attracted to red or any specific color, but rather the movements of the matador. The cape’s red color is thought to be simply a matter of tradition, likely chosen in part because it stands out to a large crowd of spectators. It has also been suggested that the color may have been used to mask the blood which appears during a bullfight.
Despite having been debunked repeatedly over the decades, the “bulls hate red” myth continues. Below are some previous explanations about the long-standing urban legend.
Larry Smith II of The International Texas Longhorn Association writes, “If you prefer the wave of the red cape with the sound of ole’ thrown in for good measure, very best wishes. Especially since cattle are color blind and the color red in the cape has no bearing on their performance.”
The Mythbusters television show sought to see if a red flag would make a bull charge, in an episode that aired on August 22, 2007. For their first test, the placed a static red flag in the bull’s pen, and the bull immediately charged it. They then placed blue and white flags, and the bull charged those as well. When all colors were placed at the same time, the bull charged all of them.
Further tests showed that movement, not the flag’s color, was what seemed to trigger a bull’s response. For their final test, one of the hosts stood still in the bull pen while wearing a red jumpsuit while two professional bullfighters ran around trying to attract the bull. The bull only charged the cowboys, and ignored the man in the jumpsuit. The team concluded that bulls were attracted to movement, not color.
In December 1973 a 12 year old girl wrote into the Free Lance-Star in Fredeericksburg, Virginia with the question, “Why does red excite a bull?” as part of their “Tell Me Why” series. The answer, in part, read:
The color red does not excite the bull – because bulls are color-blind. All kinds of experiments have been made on this subject, and they all indicate the bulls can see only black and white, and perhaps a little gray.
The article then notes that bulls charge due to the “skill of the matador. He knows just how to shake the cape to attract the animal and make it go at the cape instead of his body.”
“Any color cape that would be waved at the bull in a certain way would make him charge!” the article states.
In recent years, some YouTube users have posted videos attempting to disprove that bulls hate – or even see – red. Below are a couple of examples.
Bulls are not attracted to – or angered by – the color red, as they are known to be colorblind to red and green. They are most likely attracted to the movements of a matador, whose cape is red due to tradition and possibly to hide blood which appears during a bullfight.
Updated March 11, 2016
Originally published July 2015