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Is Deoxygenated Human Blood Blue?

Blood Is Always Red, Never Blue

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Most diagrams depict oxygenated blood as red and deoxygenated blood as blue.

Most diagrams depict oxygenated blood as red and deoxygenated blood as blue, but all blood is red.

Sansculotte, Creative Commons License

Some animals have blue blood. People only have red blood, no matter what! It's a surprisingly common misconception that deoxygenated human blood is blue.

Why Blood Is Red

Human blood is red because it contains a large number of red blood cells, which contain hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a red-colored, iron-containing protein that functions in oxygen transport by reversibly binding to oxygen. Oxygenated hemoglobin and blood are bright red; deoxygenated hemoglobin and blood are dark red. Human blood does not appear blue under any circumstances. In fact, vertebrate blood in general is red. An exception is skink blood, which appears green because it contains a large amount of the protein biliverdin.

Why You Can Appear Blue

While your blood never actually turns blue, your skin can take on a bluish cast as a result of certain diseases and disorders. This blue color is called cyanosis. If the heme in hemoglobin becomes oxidized it may become methaemoglobin, which is brownish. Methaemoglobin can't transport oxygen and its darker color may cause skin to appear blue. In sulfhemoglobinemia, the hemoglobin is only partly oxygenated, making it appear dark red with a bluish cast. Sulfhemoglobinemia is very rare.

There Is Blue Blood

While human blood is red, there are animals that have blue blood. Spiders, molluscs and certain other arthropods use hemocyanin in their hemolymph, which is analogous to our blood. This copper-based pigment is blue. Although it changes color when it is oxygenated, hemolymph typically functions in nutrient transport rather than gas exchange.

See For Yourself

If you don't believe human blood is always red or that some animal blood is blue, you can prove this to yourself.
  • You could prick your finger in a cup of vegetable oil. There is no oxygen in oil, so the red oxygenated blood would change to blue if the myth was true.

     

  • A really interesting way to examine blood is to view the toes of a living frog under a magnifying glass or low-powered microscope. You can clearly see that all of the blood is red.

     

  • If you want to see blue blood, you can examine the hemolymph of a shrimp or crab. The oxygenated blood is blue-green. Deoxygenated hemolymph is more of of a dull grayish color.
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