The Difference Between a Donkey and a Mule

For most individuals, the donkey and the mule are practically one and the same animal. Both are four-legged, both are horse-like, and both have the same behavioral mannerisms of regular full-sized horse species. In essence, it would be no different than coming across a purebred dog and a hybrid dog as both would still be classified under the umbrella term of dog. However, what most people are unaware of is that the donkey and mule are quite different, both in their anatomical and physiological makeup. In this article, we are going to outline the various differences between the two and how you can go about identifying them.

Identifying The Characteristics Between The Two

Donkeys, also known by their scientific name Equus ferus caballus, have a history that can be traced back to 3,000 BCE and is characterized by its long ears with darkened edges, wide eyes thin limbs, narrow hooves, and a short face. Typically speaking, the donkey is used as a drought animal in developing countries, whereas, a mule is used for traveling over rugged terrains. The mule is a hybrid breed that comes from mixing a female horse and a male donkey is characterized by its wide eyes and long ears but does not have the darkened tips and sports a long face, harder hooves, and a large muzzle. In addition to this, a mule will have a slightly curved back, whereas, a donkey will have a dorsal line and a minimal mane.

What’s the Difference Between Height, Weight, Age, and Genetics?

When we take a look at the height and weight, the donkey is the shorter of the two. It’s height ranges anywhere from 31-63 inches (90-180cm) with a weight range of 180-1000 pounds. A mule, on the other hand, will weigh anywhere between 820-1000 pounds and will have a height that is inherited from its parents.

With regards to lifespan, a donkey will only live 12-15 years if they are neglected, however, if they are properly taken care of they can live up to 50 years of age. A mule will live a little bit longer, but also up to 50 years of age.

Genetically speaking, the difference between a donkey and a mule is one chromosome. A donkey will have sixty-two in total, while a mule will have sixty-three and will be sterile. Meaning, that the female mule will not be able to bear offspring.

Do Their Coats Have Different Colors and Do They Sound The Same?

Another way to recognize the difference between the two is by taking a look at the color of their coat. A donkey will have a gray or dark brown coat as well as a dorsal stripe that runs from its mane, down to its tail. There may also be a crosswise stripe that runs across the shoulders. A mule will derive its coat from its parents but is often brown or bay-colored. Finally, a donkey will make a hee-haw sound when neighing while a mule will begin with a whinny (like a horse) and end in a hee-haw. 

Are There Any Similarities?

Despite their differences, both donkeys and mules are stubborn in personality and have a very strong sense of self-preservation, making them an ideal companion for protecting livestock and other farm animals. Both are able to endure a lack of water and intense heat, have hardened hooves, and have greater stamina and agility than horses. Although mules can eat nutritionally less dense food than donkeys, they both only require about 1.5% of their body weight in food. Finally, both are significantly easier to take care of and are more maintenance free as they have less medical problems with their hooves and legs than horses do.