Difference Between Donkey and Mule

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: May 31, 2023


Difference Between Donkey and Mule

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Donkeys and mules are both equine animals. They are from the same family as the horse. However, they are very different from each other in some ways. The donkey and the mule are two closely related animals that are often confused. Although they share some physical characteristics, significant differences between the two species set them apart. Understanding the difference between a donkey and a mule is important for animal lovers and enthusiasts, and even people interested in understanding the diversity of the animal kingdom. This article, explores the main differences between donkeys and mules, including their physical characteristics, behavior, uses, etc.

A mule is an offspring of a female mother horse and a male father donkey. Mules are almost always sterile. This means that they cannot have babies. A “hinny” is produced when a male horse and female donkey mate. A hinny looks like a mule but is usually smaller, due to the size of the womb of donkeys. A horse has 64 pairs of chromosomes. Mules have 63 pairs of chromosomes. And donkeys have 62 pairs of chromosomes.

Thus, while donkeys and mules share some physical characteristics, they are two distinct species with significant differences in their behavior, temperament, and uses. Donkeys are smaller, more independent, and highly social animals that are primarily used for transport and recreational purposes. Mules, on the other hand, are larger and more intelligent.

In 2013, a study was conducted which found that mules are the most intelligent of all domestic animals. They are good problem solvers and have great learning skills. This means that they are not stubborn and they take time to study a problem before taking any step. Donkeys are also intelligent, but not as much as mules. Mules are the chosen animal to ride in the Grand Canyon area because they are steady- footed and tend to remain calm even when spooked, unlike horses, which could throw off riders.

A few characteristic differences are as follows:

Physical characteristics: Mules are bigger and taller than donkeys. This is because they come partly from a horse. It is possible that sometimes, they can be bigger than their donkey parent. Also, donkeys have very long ears. Mules’ ears are shaped like a horse’s but are generally longer. However, they are not as long as a donkey’s. Additionally, donkeys have narrow hooves, while the hooves of a mule are harder than that of a horse. Overall, mules are quite similar to horses in the shape of their body, teeth, coat, etc.

Coat: Mules are most often brown or bay colored. But, they can also be grey, black, white, roans, palomino, dun, or buckskin colored. The coat of a donkey is usually grey, but it can sometimes be dark brown, light-faced roan, or black. Additionally, donkeys have 2 stripes on their coat. One goes from the mane to the tail, and the other lies crosswise on the shoulder. Mules and donkeys can vary in size and color all over the earth.

Sound they make: The sound of a donkey is like a ‘hee-haw’ sound. On the other hand, the sound made by a mule is a mix between a horse's ‘whinny’ and a donkey’s ‘hee-haw’.

Life span: The life span of a donkey is about 30- 50 years, and the life span of a mule is around 30- 40 years.

Donkey vs. Mule

First, let us begin by exploring the physical differences between the two animals. Donkeys and mules are both members of the equid family, which includes horses and zebras. However, donkeys are a separate species known as “Equus africanus”. Mules are a hybrid of a donkey and a horse, resulting in the species “Equus mulus”. One of the most significant physical differences between the two animals is their size. Donkeys are generally smaller than mules and have a more compact body shape. They typically weigh between 200 and 400 kilograms and stand around 1.2 to 1.4 meters tall. In contrast, mules are larger and weigh between 400 and 600 kilograms, and stand around 1.4 to 1.6 meters tall. Mules also tend to have longer legs than donkeys, making them better suited for carrying heavy loads.

Another physical characteristic that sets the two species apart is their ears. Donkeys are known for their long, pointed ears that stand up straight, while mules have shorter, more rounded ears. This difference in ear shape is due to their genetic makeup. Donkeys possess 62 chromosomes, while horses possess 64 chromosomes. A mule is, in fact, the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. A mule inherits 63 chromosomes from its parents, resulting in a hybrid with unique physical characteristics. This genetic combination is also responsible for other physical differences between the two animals, including their coat color and texture.

Apart from physical characteristics, there are also differences in their behavior and temperament. Donkeys are known for their stubbornness and independent nature, which can make them difficult to train and tame. They have a strong sense of self-preservation, which means they will not engage in any activity that could put them in danger. Donkeys are also highly social animals that thrive in the company of other donkeys, and they form strong bonds with members of their herd. In contrast, mules are known for their intelligence and docile nature. They are easy to train and can perform a wide range of tasks, including riding, hauling, and packing. Mules are also highly adaptable and can work in a variety of environments, making them valuable assets to farmers, ranchers, etc.

Finally, there are differences in the uses of donkeys and mules. Donkeys have been used for centuries as working animals, primarily for transporting goods and people. They are also used for their meat, milk, and hides (skin), and they can be ridden for recreational purposes. Donkeys have a unique ability to carry heavy loads over long distances with little food and water, making them ideal for use in desert and mountainous regions. Mules, on the other hand, are highly valued for their strength and endurance. They are commonly used in agriculture, mining, and transportation, and they can carry heavier loads than donkeys. Mules are also popular as riding animals, especially for trail riding and pack trips.

Difference Between a Donkey and a Mule in Tabular Form

Features                           DonkeyMule
OffspringProduces offspring known as a donkey foalA hybrid offspring of a male donkey and mare
SizeSmaller than horsesVaries in size, depending on the parents
EarsLonger and more upright than horsesShorter and more rounded than donkeys
HoovesNarrow and more upright than horsesSimilar to horses
Coat colorGray, brown, black, or whiteDepends on the parents' coat color
VoiceBrays, a loud and distinctive soundQuieter and softer than a donkeys bray
TemperamentCan be stubborn and independentCalmer and more trainable than a donkey
Work capacityStrong, hardworking, and durableStronger and more enduring than a horse
Gestation period12 months                          12-14 months
UseUsed for transportation and workUsed for transportation, work, and riding
BreedingCan breed with horses and zebrasSterile, cannot produce offspring
Lifespan25-30 years30-40 years
FoodCan survive on tough vegetationNeed more nutritious food than donkeys
HealthTend to be hardy and resistant to diseasesProne to respiratory and dental problems
IntelligenceIntelligent and quick learnersIntelligent and trainable

What Is a Donkey?

A donkey is a domesticated mammal and a member of the horse family Equidae. Donkeys are commonly found in various parts of the world, primarily in arid and semi-arid areas. They are well-known for their long ears, which help to dissipate heat and regulate their body temperature, as well as their braying sound, which is unique and distinctive. Donkeys have been used by humans for thousands of years as pack animals, working animals, and for transportation. They are known for their endurance and hardiness and can carry heavy loads over long distances with little water or food. Donkeys are also intelligent animals and can be trained to perform various tasks. In addition to their use as working animals, donkeys are also kept as pets and used for recreational purposes such as riding and showing. Some donkey breeds, such as the Miniature Mediterranean Donkey, are popular as companion animals and can be kept as house pets. Overall, donkeys are valuable and versatile animals that have played an important role in human societies for centuries.

What Is a Mule?

A mule is a hybrid animal resulting from the mating of a male donkey and a female horse, also known as a mare. Mules inherit traits from both their parents and typically have the best qualities of both, such as the strength and endurance of a donkey and the size and speed of a horse. Mules are generally larger and stronger than donkeys, with some mules being able to carry loads of up to 20% of their body weight. Mules have been used for various purposes for centuries, including transportation, farming, and military purposes. They are valued for their strength, endurance, and sure-footedness, making them ideal for carrying heavy loads in difficult terrain. Mules are also known for their intelligence and are generally considered easier to handle than donkeys, making them popular as riding animals as well. One of the unique features of mules is that they are sterile and cannot reproduce, which makes them different from their donkey and horse parents. Despite their sterility, mules are still bred and raised for various purposes around the world.

Main Differences Between a Donkey and a Mule

Physical Characteristics

Compared to a mule, a donkey generally has longer ears, a short, thicker head, a shorter mane, thinner limbs, and narrower hooves. Mules share these features with donkeys but they are larger and taller than donkeys. The physical characteristics that mules share with horses include the shape of the body, a uniform coat, and teeth. The hooves of a mule are harder than those of a horse. There is a lot of variation in the color, size, etc of both, donkeys as well as mules worldwide.


A mule’s coat is normally brown, sorrel or, bay but there is a huge variety just like in horses. Other commonly found colors are black and grey, and less common coats are white, roans, palomino, dun, and buckskin. Donkeys are generally grey, dark brown, black, or light-faced roan. They also have dorsal stripes, which are dark stripes from their mane to their tail, and a crosswise stripe on the shoulders.


Every mule has a different bray which is a combination of a horse's whinny and the grunt of the wind-down of a bray. In most cases, mules start “whiee” like a horse and end in “aw ah aw” like a donkey.


Donkeys are very intelligent and mules share this trait. Horses do not have very high intelligence.


Mules are sterile while donkeys can reproduce normally. Donkeys have 62 chromosomes and horses have 64. 64 chromosomes mean that horses have 32 pairs of chromosomes. Since mules are hybrid animals, they only have 63 chromosomes. This means that they cannot produce the haploid cells required for reproduction. Male mules are called johns or jacks and are usually castrated to help control their behavior by eliminating their interest in females.


Both donkeys and mules love broad-leaved weeds and roughage such as barley straw. This should form a large part of their diet but donkeys must not be fed large amounts of protein, bread, puffed rice, or processed food because they may develop foot disease and become lame.

The Population of Donkeys and Mules

According to FAO statistics, there are around 12 million mules in the world. Most are found in China and Mexico (there are more than 3 million in each country). Brazil has over 1 million. 2 million are found in Pakistan, and over 1.5 million in Egypt, and Ethiopia.

Life span                                      

Donkeys have a life span of 30-50 years. Mules have a lower life span of about 30 to 40 years. In poorer countries, working donkeys have a much lower life span of typically 15 years.


In conclusion, while donkeys and mules may look similar at first glance, there are significant differences between the two. Donkeys are smaller, stubborn, and independent animals that are well-suited for transportation and work in difficult terrains. On the other hand, mules are larger, stronger, and more trainable than donkeys and have been used for various purposes including transportation, farming, and military purposes.

Mules inherit the best qualities of both donkeys and horses and are known for their strength, endurance, and surefootedness, which make them ideal for carrying heavy loads in difficult terrain. They are also valued for their intelligence and docility, which makes them popular as riding animals as well. Despite their sterility, mules continue to be bred and raised for various purposes around the world.

Overall, the differences between donkeys and mules make each animal well-suited for different tasks, depending on the needs of their owners. While donkeys are ideal for carrying loads on steep, rugged terrains, mules are best suited for carrying heavier loads over longer distances. Whether used for transportation, work, or recreation, both donkeys and mules have unique qualities that make them valuable animals in many parts of the world.s


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"Difference Between Donkey and Mule." Diffzy.com, 2024. Thu. 29 Feb. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-donkey-and-mule-1252>.

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