Do Bulls Really Hate the Color Red?

Written by tamasin wedgwood
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Do Bulls Really Hate the Color Red?
Matador's capes may be any colour--it is the movement that enrages. (toro16 image by Tilio & Paolo from

Bullfighters traditionally use red capes. This is probably the origin of the supposition that red enrages bulls. While waving red capes give human audiences a spectacular show, it is the motion that attracts the bull's attention.


The Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters" television show addressed this question using matador dummies with different colour flags. Held still, all colours received equal, minimal reaction from the bulls. Waving elicited charging. Waving white and blue flags aroused the bulls as much as red. Red clothing elicited no more interest than other colours--bulls charged whichever person moved. Mythbusters concluded that the motion of the matador's flag, not the colour drives bulls to attack.


Cattle's eyes have 2 types of colour receptor cells where humans have three. Bulls have limited colour vision, poor ability to differentiate colours and are red-green colorblind. Their colour sense is insufficient to react angrily to any particular colour.

Fun Fact

The first recorded usage of "like a red rag to a bull" was in 1873. For a hundred years prior, the phrase was "red rag to a pheasant," or to a turkey; a viper--or even a Frenchman. It seems the significant aspect was not the colour of the rag, but the excitability of the creature facing it.

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