A lot of you might know that I come from a family of animal-lovers. Domestic animals are often being discussed at our dinner table. So, last night I heard my little one debating with a friend on the phone that donkeys can’t reproduce but he was struggling to come up with a valid point to convince his friend.
When he was done with a call I asked my son to invite him over. He invited him, we had a valuable discussion on this topic. I’m never a fan of donkeys but have kept a donkey as a guard for a long time. Therefore, I know the answer to this “can donkeys reproduce?” most Googled questions.
Just when I heard my son debating with his best friend I immediately knew what my next topic for this informative website is going to be about.
So, I dedicated a few hours of my busy schedule to find out the science behind this inability to reproduce. Now that I can talk about this widely discussed topic with full confidence I’m here to share with you everything I know.
Let’s start with the simpler question first as no question even if it’s stupid should go unanswered.
Can donkeys reproduce?
Yes, donkeys can’t reproduce just in case, they couldn’t then how would their population be growing. Donkeys can’t reproduce is a widely believed misconception even my auto-correct is not allowing me to write “can ”.
Donkeys can’t reproduce is just a myth
We all know what ” myth” means, something that the majority of people believe but in reality, it is not true.
Donkeys can’t reproduce is just a myth. Donkeys also have been blessed with the ability to reproduce. The experienced donkey keeper considers it too stupid to think or believe that donkeys can’t reproduce.
How do donkeys reproduce?
The same way as their fellow animals; cattle, horses, and zebras, etc. One intact male donkey and one willing female donkey have to mate in the estrus cycle to be able to reproduce.
Revealing the truth, donkeys can’t reproduce, it’s zedonk, hinnies, and mules that can’t!
To be able to understand the concept you first need to know what zeedonk, mules, and hinnies are, as the believers of this myth might have been misunderstanding the hinnies and mules as donkeys.
Mules are an outcome of a female horse and male donkey breeding, zeedonks zebra and donkey, whereas, hinnies are obtained by breeding a female donkey and a male horse.
Mules are often referred to as and taken as “donkey” but in fact, they are not purely donkey. They came into this world as an outcome of mating a willing female horse and an intact male donkey.
A male horse and female donkey can also be mated to reproduce but obtaining a mule by mating a female horse and male donkey is easier than the other option.
The donkeys and horses are usually brought together to reproduce a mule or hinny because they are stronger, hardy, and much easier to keep than horses.
Zeedonks is also known as zebronky, zonkey, zebadonk, zonkey, and Debra, etc.
Like mules and hinnies, they also can not reproduce but they are a little harder to be misunderstood as a donkey because half of their body resembles a donkey and the other half has got prominent zebra stripes.
Donkeys and mules are two different but identical creatures
From the above heading, you might have noticed that mules and donkeys are two different creatures. Mules share some of the characteristics of a donkey, they are not truly donkeys but a perfect blend of horses and donkeys.
Mules and hinnies have sex organs but they still can not reproduce
Mules and hinnies have sex organs but they infertile. So, they can mate with mules, hinnies, horses, donkeys, and even zebras but can’t produce offspring.
Why can’t zeedonks, mules, and hinnies have babies of their own?
Zeedonks, mules, and hinnies are crossbreds. The crossbred are sterile because they can’t produce eggs or sperm to be able to reproduce. The zeedonks, mules, and hinnies can not produce eggs or sperm because their chromosome doesn’t match.
If zeedonks, mules, and hinnies can’t reproduce then what’s their use?
Horses and donkeys have been crossbred to reproduce mules and hinnies that are mostly used as pack or riding animals. Zeedonks, mules, and hinnies can be used for any other purpose but not breeding as they are dead-end in the chain.
A lot of you might be wondering if mules can not be paired with a donkey for the said purpose. Is it possible for two mules to reproduce?
No, mules can not be paired up to reproduce a new mule. The mule population is increasing in numbers only by breeding donkeys and horses.
The male mules are generally infertile but the female mules are subfertile, not completely infertile. The female mules can be paired with a male donkey or horse as they can produce eggs and offspring but it is quite rare.
The male mules are mostly completely infertile because their chromosomes don’t segregate well and low sperm count becomes the cause of their infertility.
But some cases of fertile mules have also been reported
No one knows how true these cases are but a few cases of fertile mules are reported. The chances of a mule producing offspring are as low as the possibility of a miracle happening. The miracle can only happen by crossbreeding a female horse and a male donkey.
Different number of chromosomes makes the mules infertile
The horse has 64 chromosomes and the donkey is blessed with 62, the outcome of donkey-horse breeding, mules get 32 chromosomes from the horse and 31 from the donkey(total 63) the difference in the number of chromosomes makes the mules infertile. Because of these combined characteristics and differences in the number of chromosomes they are regarded as “mules”.
What else you need to know about a sterile offspring called ” Mule”?
Mules are an outcome of selective breeding
Mules are a result of crossbreeding. They do not naturally mate to produce sterile offspring but are sometimes paired by the humans to get the hardy, strong creature to use as riding or pack animals.
The horses and donkeys that are used to living separately often need to be paired up whereas the horses and the donkeys living in the wild don’t need any human influence to mate.
Mules have been bred for thousands of years
The first mule was bred by George Washington in 800 BC which means that they have been bred for thousands of years.
The tradition of breeding horses and donkeys to obtain mules or hinny is still alive because they can survive on poor food, walk on paths that horses and donkeys can’t, take the burden better, and are the cheapest riding animal.
How do you differentiate a mule and a donkey?
The majority of the believers of this idea “donkey can’t reproduce” mistook mules as donkeys. The mules can be easily identified by the short thick head, thin limbs, long ears, short mane, and small narrow hooves.
Mules were kept and raised by the army in the past
Mules are later domesticated, they were first kept and raised by the armies to pull heavier field guns, transport supplies, and use as mobile firing platforms for small cannons.
In the second half of the 20th century, the trend of using them as a means of transportation took the world by storm. Even in 2021, the tradition of using them as means of transportation is still alive.
Even if they were not sterile, they won’t be true to any form
Since mules and hinnies get the characteristics of both parents. So, even if they were not sterile, they are not true to any of the parent forms either.
Fun facts about mules
- Mules live longer than horses, usually up to 50 years.
- Mules are tougher and less sensitive than horses.
- They don’t require high-grade food to survive.
- Mules guard the farm animals the same way as donkeys.
- Mules can endure heat better.
- Mules can survive longer without water as compared to horses.
- Mules have got a strong preservation sense.
- They are bred for their remarkable agility and stamina.
The widely believed statement “donkey can’t reproduce” is nothing but a myth. Donkeys can reproduce, it’s a mule that can’t. Mule is the outcome of donkey-horse breeding, the difference in the number of chromosomes makes them sterile, unable to reproduce. Mules may look identical to both parents but are not true to any form.
Mules(male) and hinnies(females) have sex organs but their reproduction system is not developed to the point that they can together produce fertile offspring. Mules are obtained as a result of cross-breeding because they are hardy, can survive on low-quality food, go a long time without water, and an excellent pack animal.
They have been bred for thousands of years as the first one was bred by George Washington in 800 BC.
Lastly, the information provided here can be faulty as human knowledge is limited. If you want to know the science behind the inability of the mule to reproduce I would suggest you study from an authentic source.
Hi, I am Waqar and active in the horse world since 2012. I have MSc (Hons) in Agriculture from the University of Agriculture Faisalabad. I love to solve equine health care issues and note down in the form of research papers.
I have written hundreds of equine health care, accessories, names, and history-related blogs. My equine related work is watering a lot of horse-related magazines and blogs.