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17 Interesting Facts about Donkeys

Last Reviewed and Updated on June 13, 2022

Donkeys, members of the same family as horses and zebras really stand out with some of their unique traits… Like their laughter. Did you know that laughter is called braying? No? There is a lot more to learn about them so do browse through these exciting facts about donkeys.

1. Donkeys were once more commonly called asses

We’re kicking off this list of facts about donkeys with their name change. Male donkeys were called ass and females she-ass. This term is now archaic and rarely used. The term donkey was first used as a slur for the animal. How things change.

2. They are more stubborn than horses

You will have a harder time convincing a donkey to do something than you will a horse. If they perceive an activity as dangerous they are very likely to refuse to do it.

3. Donkeys have been used as working animals for at least 5000 years

They were and still are primarily used as pack animals, carrying loads. They are also used in agriculture and can also be ridden.

4. They can guard sheep and other animals

Donkeys have a natural instinct for herding, so if they are trained well and form bonds with sheep they can make good sheep guards.

They are very protective of themselves and their territory, and if they are bonded with the sheep they will protect them as well in case of a predator approaching.

They will however not protect sheep or other animals they do not know or care about.

5. The laughing sound they make is called braying

They bray to communicate with other donkeys, when they are startled to alert others of danger, to show affection…  

6. Compared to horses, they are really slow

Seeing as these two species are related it’s interesting that donkeys are a whole lot slower than horses. While a horse can achieve a top speed of 55 mph / 88 km/h a donkey can only achieve a speed of  15 mph / 24 km/h. They really can’t keep up with horses. 

They are slow compared to zebras as well, as zebras can achieve a top speed of 40 mph / 65 km/h.

7. Donkeys come in many shapes, sizes, and colors

From miniature breeds to pretty tall ones, short-haired and long-haired, white, gray, brown, black, and even a combination of colors.

8. Their tails resemble those of a cow more than they do a tail of a horse

As donkeys are from the same family as horses you would assume their tails would resemble those of a horse, however, their tails look more like a tail of a cow.

It’s not actually the donkey that is the odd one out, it’s the horse. Zebras are from the same family and have a tail similar to that of a donkey. In fact, you can see similar tails with other grazing animals as well.

Animals use them to swap those pesky flies.

9. Their population is declining

This is one of the more sad facts about donkeys.

They can be found all around the globe and are most commonly used as working animals in developing countries. They are a cheap labor force, however, with the increase in living standards in developing countries the need for donkeys as working animals is declining and along with that so are their numbers.

10. Donkeys have a cross on their backs

A cool fact about donkeys is that all of the species have a cross marking on their backs, some species more prominently showing it than others.

11. They often appear in myths and legends

Since they have been domesticated about 5000 years ago it’s no wonder they have found their place in many myths and legends.

They have carried messiahs of many religions, kings rode them, they were worshiped by some at one time, they were associated with Egyptian deities, and were mentioned in Greek mythology.

12. Donkeys are often mated with horses to produce mules and hinnies.

When a male donkey is bred with a female horse the offspring is called a mule. When a female donkey is bred with a male horse, the offspring is a hinny. A mule is easier to obtain than a hinny.

Horses and donkeys are different species and they have a different number of chromosomes (64 and 62), the offspring of horses and donkeys have 63. The uneven number comes at a cost, it generally prevents the creation of embryos which makes mules and hinnies infertile. There have been some odd cases when mules have successfully given birth (such as Morocco’s miracle mule). Only one hinny has been known to give birth.

13. Fun donkey fact: they can be bred with zebras

While the offspring of zebras and donkeys are rare, they do happen. Any offspring of zebra and equine is called a zebroid. More specifically, an offspring of zebra and donkey is called a donkra. Donkras are usually infertile.

14. A male donkey is called a jack or jackass, a female is jenny or jennet

Young immature donkeys of both sexes are known as foals.

15. A group of donkeys is called a drove, pace, or a herd

This donkey fact is worth remembering as donkeys are social animals.

16. Worship of donkeys is called onolatry

One of the more weird facts about donkeys. Just in case you fall in love with donkeys a little too much…  In Imperial Rome, the pagans would charge the Jews and the first Christians of onolatry practice.

17. Donkey is a symbol of the US democratic party

The donkey is a symbol of the US democratic party, and the elephant is a symbol of the republican party.

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