Donkey vs Mule: What’s the Difference?

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donkey vs mule

We know they look alike, but what are the differences between a donkey vs mules?

From their size to how they are bred, you will find a wide array of differences between these two animals.

Donkey vs Mules: Difference? Donkeys, mules, and horses all fall under the horse family Equidae, but any two of them are not the same. Each is its own kind. For starters, a mule is the product when you breed a jack and a female horse called a mare. Donkeys and horses, on the other hand, have been bred and domesticated as their own species for around 5,000 years.

Which is the better option for a homestead? This article will help you choose, determine and find out the difference of both.

What Is a Donkey?

what is a donkey

A donkey, or an ass, is a domesticated equine that is smaller than a horse.

Male donkeys or asses are called jacks, and female donkeys are called jennies or jennets.

Their young are called foals.

What Is a Mule?

what is a mule

As stated earlier, a mule is an offspring of a male donkey and a female horse.

Its biological reciprocal is the hinny, the offspring of a stallion (a male horse) and a female donkey.

Mules are bred more than hinnies because female horses have larger wombs than female donkeys.

Although mules share the same equine traits as hinnies, donkeys, and horses, a mule inherits better characteristics from its horse mother and donkey father.

A male mule can be called a horse mule or a john mule, and a young male mule is called a mule colt.

A female mule is called a molly, and a young molly is called a filly.

What Is the Difference Between a Donkey vs Mule?

donkey vs mule difference

Though they both come from the same horse family, you will find many differences between a donkey and a mule.


Scientifically, donkeys (or Equus asinus) have been traced back to their ancestor, the Equus Africanus, or the African wild ass.

Donkeys have been domesticated for thousands of years along with the horse.

The partnership between humans and donkeys have been sealed way before the dawn of civilization.

Nomadic tribes in Africa have been using donkeys to move around and to carry items for trade.

Mules are said to have originated from Paphlagonia and Nicaea, both in the northern part of present-day Turkey.

Known as the oldest hybrid created by humans, the mule has been bred where both horses and donkeys coexisted.

Mules and donkeys have been bred and used deliberately during the boom of ancient economies and civilizations.

Both have been relied on extensively for agriculture and transportation.

Trading has paved the way for the spread of donkeys from these civilizations to other parts of Europe and Asia.

During the Industrial Revolution, territorial expansions, and civil and international wars, the donkey is the most drafted working animal.

On the other hand, the mule was used as a more reliable substitute for horses.


Aside from where they originated, mules and donkeys also have unique characteristics that set them apart from each other.


It’s easy to mistake donkeys for small horses. Although donkeys vary considerably in size, they are smaller than horses.

Mules grow to be somewhat as large as or even larger than their dam (female horse parent), sometimes even bigger than the donkey that sired them.

Obvious Traits

The physical characteristics of a donkey that make it distinguishable from a horse include long ears, a short thick head with a wider forehead, and smaller and narrower hooves.

The coat of a donkey is thicker, but it has a short mane, unlike what horses have.

Donkeys typically have two stripes on its back that cross one another; one runs from the mane to the tail, and the other from shoulder to shoulder.

A donkey’s tail looks more like a cow’s tail than the tail of horses, which has long, flowing hair.

Mules are more challenging to identify because they can take after the traits of the donkey or the horse parent.

They tend to have flatter backs and large ears as passed on to them by their donkey parent, but they have more delicate bone structure.

For vocalization, horses neigh while donkeys bray. Mules vocalize using a combination of these two sounds.

Hidden Traits

Compared to horses that have 64 chromosomes in their DNA, donkeys only have 62 chromosomes. Mules, on the other hand, have 63 chromosomes.

Female mules have been known to produce offspring when mated with purebred stallions or jacks.

Although there are few instances where mule foals have been born, the odd number of chromosomes makes the mule a sterile organism.

This means that, generally, mules cannot produce offspring because the chromosomes cannot pair up properly to form embryos.

Most horses and mules have a fifth lumbar vertebra in their spine that donkeys do not have.


Since donkeys have originated from desert-like habitat, they have significantly fewer requirements for the high-quality grain diet that horses need.

They can also endure heat and lack of water better than horses.

One reason people continue producing mules even though it cannot produce offsprings is that it inherits the low maintenance requirements of the donkey while providing the pace of the horse.

Mules also have significantly fewer medical problems as compared to horses. They have tougher and less sensitive skin, and their hooves are way harder and stronger.


Full-time working donkeys in poor countries live for at least 12 to 15 years. However, they can survive to up to 50 years in more prosperous countries.

With proper care and management, donkeys typically live longer than horses.

Mules also usually live longer than horses. They can do most riding activities associated with the lifetime of a horse that most donkeys cannot do.


Donkeys are usually mistaken to be very stubborn.

The subtle reason why we have the term “donkey” is that people have started using “ass” and “jackass” as a derogatory term for hard-headed people.

However, this stubbornness is attributed to the fact that they are intelligent enough to have a sense of self-preservation.

You will find that you cannot force a donkey into submission when it perceives danger.

This temperament is also observed in mules.

Once a mule’s trust and confidence are gained, it becomes a very dependable worker and companion.

Both donkeys and mules are good guard animals for protecting livestock.

In comparison, though, mules are less aggressive than donkeys, which need to be trained not to attack pet dogs.


There are about 40 million donkeys worldwide, and they have been used for a variety of purposes for a very long time.

Donkeys have been known to be stronger and more surefooted than horses.

Known as the “beasts of burden,” they can carry about 20 to 25 percent of their body weight and haul up to twice their mass on level terrain.

Today, donkeys are still used as pack and draft animals.

However, in countries with better conditions, they are used mainly to guard sheep, sire mules, and offer recreational rides in theme parks.

In some places, donkeys are domesticated for their milk and meat.

Mules are bred to cover the speed of a horse while giving the endurance of a donkey.

Ride a mule for whatever discipline horses are used for, and it can deliver the same results.

Alternatively, you can use the same mule to toil all day and see how it can do what a donkey does.


Donkeys are a naturally evolved species, while mules and hinnies are recognized as the oldest manmade hybrid.

There is a very good reason why mules continue to propagate even when they cannot produce their own offspring.

They combine the best characteristics of donkeys and horses.

With very low upkeep requirements and a range of dependable abilities associated with horses and donkeys, the mule is the best choice for an equine companion.

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