In vertebrates, it is composed of blood cells suspended in a liquid called blood plasma. Plasma, which constitutes 55% of blood fluid, is mostly water (92% by volume), and contains dissipated proteins, glucose, mineral ions, hormones, carbon dioxide (plasma being the main medium for excretory product transportation), and blood cells themselves. Albumin is the main protein in plasma, and it functions to regulate the colloidal osmotic pressure of blood. The blood cells are mainly red blood cells (also called RBCs or erythrocytes) and white blood cells, including leukocytes and platelets. The most abundant cells in vertebrate blood are red blood cells. These contain hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein, which facilitates transportation of oxygen by reversibly binding to this respiratory gas and greatly increasing its solubility in blood. In contrast, carbon dioxide is almost entirely transported extracellularly dissolved in plasma as bicarbonate ion.
Vertebrate blood is bright red when its hemoglobin is oxygenated. Some animals, such as crustaceans and mollusks, use hemocyanin to carry oxygen, instead of hemoglobin. Insects and some mollusks use a fluid called hemolymph instead of blood, the difference being that hemolymph is not contained in a closed circulatory system. In most insects, this "blood" does not contain oxygen-carrying molecules such as hemoglobin because their bodies are small enough for their tracheal system to suffice for supplying oxygen.
Jawed vertebrates have an adaptive immune system, based largely on white blood cells. White blood cells help to resist infections and parasites. Platelets are important in the clotting of blood. Arthropods, using hemolymph, have hemocytes as part of their immune system.
Blood is circulated around the body through blood vessels by the pumping action of the heart. In animals with lungs, arterial blood carries oxygen from inhaled air to the tissues of the body, and venous blood carries carbon dioxide, a waste product of metabolism produced by cells, from the tissues to the lungs to be exhaled.
Medical terms related to blood often begin with hemo- or hemato- (also spelled haemo- and haemato-) from the Greek word αἷμα (haima) for "blood". In terms of anatomy and histology, blood is considered a specialized form of connective tissue, given its origin in the bones and the presence of potential molecular fibers in the form of fibrinogen.
Blood performs many important functions within the body including:
- Supply of oxygen to tissues (bound to hemoglobin, which is carried in red cells)
- Supply of nutrients such as glucose, amino acids, and fatty acids (dissolved in the blood or bound to plasma proteins (e.g., blood lipids))
- Removal of waste such as carbon dioxide, urea, and lactic acid
- Immunological functions, including circulation of white blood cells, and detection of foreign material by antibodies
- Coagulation, which is one part of the body's self-repair mechanism (blood clotting after an open wound in order to stop bleeding)
- Messenger functions, including the transport of hormones and the signaling of tissue damage
- Regulation of body pH
- Regulation of core body temperature
- Hydraulic functions