The kinetics of the pH-induced dissociation of the 3 X 10(6) mol wt hemoglobin from Lumbricus terrestris (the earthworm) have been studied in a light-scattering stopped-flow apparatus. The ligand dependent dissociation data were fit well by a simple sequential model. The data for CO and oxyhemoglobin are consistent with Hb12 leads to 2Hb6 leads to 12Hb. Methemoglobin at pH 7 appears to be hexameric and the dissociation is consistent with the model: Hb6 leads to 6Hb. In a sequential decay scheme for which light-scattering changes are monitored, the relative amounts of rapid and slow phase are determined by the rate constants as well as the molecular weights of intermediate species. Assignment of the hexameric intermediate is supported by an investigation of the sensitivity of the theoretical kinetic curves to the molecular weights of the intermediates. This assignment is further supported by the following: (1) the same model will fit the data for oxy- and CO-hemoglobin at all three temperatures (a 24-29-fold variation in rate constants), (2) evidence from electron microscopy shows hexameric forms, and (3) methemoglobin is apparently stable as a hexamer at pH 7. When CO replaces O2 as the ligand, the dissociation rate increases by a factor of four. The met is about 20 times faster than the initial oxyhemoglobin dissociation rate, but perhaps more relevant for comparing dissociation of the hexamer, the met rate was respectively 100 times and 500 times faster than that for the assumed hexameric forms of CO- and oxy-hemoglobin. The activation energies for the dodecamer to hexamer dissociation and for the dissociation of the hexamer to smaller forms were about 30 kcal/mol for oxy-, CO-, and methemoglobin.