7 Key Differences Between Mule And Donkey

donkey farm
donkey farm

Have you ever wondered what or how these two farm animals look like? Are they even different or just different names of same animal in different parts of the world? Well, it turns out that they are quite different animals. And while it may not look so from the outside, the specifics are an entirely different story. Mules are actually the cross of a female horse with a male donkey, also called as ‘jack’. Read more about their differences between Mule and Donkey,


Differences Between Mule And Donkey

1. Physical Characteristics

Mules possess many qualities desirable in an animal used for mobility. From their male parent, i.e., donkey they get a tough build, speed and stamina. Mules are comparatively taller than donkeys especially near their shoulders. A distinguishing aspect of donkeys is that they have a dark line running from the head along the back and till the tail. Also called a dorsal stripe. They also have a transverse stripe just above the front limbs. These features are generally not visible due to the dark colour of the coat but can be seen clearly on any lighter coated donkey.

The cry of a donkey, called braying is something like “hee-haw”. The mule, as one may deduce has the sound that has a horse’s whinnying in the beginning and ends with donkey’s hee-haw sound. Mules are also more tough and have higher endurance than donkeys, a trait which is attributed to their maternal genetic legacy.

2. Intelligence

Donkey might be a synonym to simpleton, but science says otherwise. And a mule which is the offspring of donkey and horse also possess the cognition abilities similar to their parents if not more. In numerous tests carried out to test the cognitive skills of donkeys and horses, mules always tend to have an upper hand. And among donkeys and horses, the former tends to come out first. They are generally more creative than horses and better problem solvers.

3. Life Span

Generally, donkeys have a lifespan of 30 to 50 years. Some even cross 60. However, domesticated donkeys used as beast of burden have a significantly lower lifespan, around 15 years only. The main reason for shortened life being overwork and fatigue coupled with poor nutrition. Mules have a shorter lifespan of 30 years. The shortened lifespan is related to their horse parents who have a shorter lifespan of 25 to 30 years only.

4. Population

Since both of these animals are domesticated, they have significant populations all over the world in farms and rural areas. While there exist forty million plus donkeys around the globe most are in China, Pakistan, Mexico Most of the population exists in the Asia Pacific region, however Europe and Caucasus takes the number one position for diversity found in breeds.

FAO says the current population of mules stands at twelve million all over the globe. The largest populations again can be traced to China and Mexico. The use of mules as draught animal makes them suitable for use in rugged mountainous regions for carrying supplies. Some militaries also use them for this purpose.

Mule meat is also eaten in many parts of the world. Similarly donkeys are used for meat production, mostly in developing and underdeveloped countries. The countries with the most populations are also the biggest consumers of donkey and mule products. The ‘ejiao’ or donkey hide gelatin is a product made from the skin of donkeys and is a common ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine. This provides the impetus to the market for these animals.

5. Reproduction

We all know about reproduction in donkeys and horses. Nothing new here. The real question is how a horse and a donkey reproduce? One has 64 chromosomes and the other one has 62 pairs. Their crossed progeny, mules get 63 pairs of chromosomes. This mismatch in chromosome numbers renders mules infertile. That is generally what has been observed. In rare cases, female mules have given birth to young ones. Herodotus recorded one such event as an omen of Xerxes’ invasion of Greece.

This antique event has continued in modern times. A fertile female mule when crossed with horse produces an offspring similar to the horse. Likewise, with donkeys, they give birth to a donkey foal. The rarity of these cases makes growth of mule population dependent on humans to a large scale as horses and donkey’s do not mate in the wild generally. Like the foal of a female horse and male donkey exists, when a male horse and female donkey mate, although it is rare it does happen, and the foal so born is called a hinny.

6. Domestication

Mules have been used for domestic uses since ancient times. The donkeys were first used by humans in the Nubia region and Somalia in Africa. Although they were domesticated long after cattle, they quickly replaced oxen as pack animals. From there the donkey made its way to Mesopotamia and then to Europe and further west in Asia. There were no donkeys in America prior to the colonial settlements. But European settlers brought them along across Atlantic and they became the popular beast of burden in the new world. Many that were released or escaped formed groups of feral populations that we see in Americas.

Mules have been around since the regions with donkey populations overlapped with regions with horses. This occurred in West Asia where a lot of mentions of mules have been found in literature including in the Bible. Mules too have been in use in military since ancient times. With changing times, mules have been adapted to carrying ammunitions and field guns in roadless terrains. World war 2 also saw widespread use of mules.

7. Care

Since both of these animals are widely domesticated, they need to be cared for. Donkeys used as pack animals need to be shoed to protect their hooves. Although their hooves are more resilient than horse hooves, but they still need care. They have a strong digestive system and are able to feed on straws and a lot of roughage. Mules also feed on broad leaved weeds and straw and roughage. Although both of these animals have pretty cheap and easily available diets, in most cases they are overworked and undernourished.

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