If you’ve heard of or seen bullfighting, you probably recognize that iconic red sheet matadors throw around. You’ve probably also been told that the red makes the bulls super aggressive. Well, it’s true that the sheet matadors are waving around does make the bull more aggressive. But it may not be for the reasons you might think. So, does red actually make bulls mad?
Does Red Actually Make Bulls Mad?
When Does Red Come Out to Play?
First off, in Spanish-style Bullfighting (the one practiced in Spain) the red sheet isn’t normally brought out until the final third of the bullfight. Spanish bullfighting is the one we’re generally familiar with, as well as being the one that uses the red the way we think it’s used. The first, tercio de varas, or directly translated as the “third of lances,” has the matador simply observing the bull. They are running around with a gold and magenta cape though. The fact that the first cape you see in a Spanish bullfight is not red should be a hint.
Assistants to the matador (picadors) on horseback stab the bull’s neck. Assuming the horse and both humans aren’t injured, this should be the first time blood is drawn in the fight. The stab targets a specific muscle that make the bull hang its head lower, and does a really good job of making it mad. Ultimately the bull becomes more aggressive towards a single target–normally the matador.
After which comes the third of banderillas (tercio de banderillas) where banderilleros (other humans in the ring) plant barbed sticks into the bull. Ultimately, six banderillas will be planted with the goal of making the bull angrier. Some matadors do this themselves. If they do, they often do this in flourished manners, to flex on the bull and make a show (bullfighting is a performance, after all).
How Does Red Come Out to Play?
It’s only in the final third, el tercio de muerte (the third of death) that iconic red sheet comes out. While the other two thirds saw the matador in the ring with picadors and banderilleros, the matador is now alone with the bull. Here, they’re armed only with the cloth (la muleta) and a sword. Also the sword is fake for a good chunk of this third.
After performing passes with the bull and wearing it out, the matador will get a real sword and kill the bull. Sometimes a heavy dagger is used to sever the spine (instead of stabbing the heart), but that’s semantics at this point.
Why Does Red Come Out to Play?
In Spanish bullfighting now, the red is mostly ceremonial. It’s a tradition; red’s been used since the beginning, so they’ll keep using it. It has was thought that the red was used to mask the blood of the bull at one point.
If you read our post on why barns are red, you might know that bulls are functionally colorblind. So they don’t care at all about the muleta being red. Turns out they’re just really mad at being stabbed a lot and they’re going to charge at anything that moves.
Well, if you miss the spirit of the question, we guess red does make the bull mad. It’s just that the bull is bleeding red all over the place, and not because the sheet is. At that point we’d all get mad at the color red though.
In the mood for some Bulls but not bullfights? See if you can name these Chicago Bulls All-Time Leaders.