November 9, 2020
AZ Animals Staff
- Main Prey
- Grass, Weeds, Vegetables
- Fox, Wolf, Lion
- Average Litter Size
- Favorite Food
- The offspring of a horse and donkey parents!
Mule Physical Characteristics
- Brown, Grey, Black
- Skin Type
- Top Speed
- 15 mph
- 15-20 years
- 350-450kg (771-992lbs)
“A stupid mule is still smarter than a good horse or a bad man.”
Mules are a genetic hybrid that have been the workhorse of human civilization for millennia. Stronger than a horse, but gentler than a donkey; the mule combines all the best elements of both breeds into a package that is a staple of agricultural pursuits across the globe.
Incredible Mule Facts!
- There are different names for the male and female of the species; a mule is a male, and a hinney is a female.
- These animals were intentionally created during ancient times in order to highlight the best traits of the stallion and the donkey.
- Mules are sterile due to chromosomal abnormalities created during the breeding process, but hinneys have occasionally born foals when bred with stallions or donkeys.
- One of the earliest recorded instances of mules is in Ancient Egypt circa 3000 BCE.
- They compete in all of the same equestrian events, including dressage, like horses.
Mule Scientific Name
These animals are a members of the family Equidae of the genus Equus. Their scientific name is Equus mulus, and that stands true for both the male and female of the species despite their different names. A male animal, called a mule, is a hybrid of a male donkey, called a jack, and a female horse, called a mare. A female is called a hinney, also spelled hinny, and is created by the cross-breeding of a female donkey, called a jenny or jenney, and a male horse, referred to as a stallion.
Equus is the Latin word for horse, and mulus is Latin for mule.
Mule Appearance and Behavior
These animals look exactly like what they truly are, the resulting genetic hybrid of a stallion and a donkey. While generally brown or gray, they can come in any coat and color found on both horses and donkeys. They are larger than leaner than jacks and smaller but stouter than colts. Their heads are shorter, thicker, and more closely resemble that of a donkey while their ears are longer than a horse’s but shorter than a donkey’s.
The average size of these animals is between 50 and 70 inches in height, and their weight can range between 600 and 1,500 pounds. Miniature animals weighing only 50 pounds have been bred, and the largest recorded male weighed in at a massive 2,200 pounds. That weight ranges from an average-sized male bulldog up to the weight of two grizzly bears put together. Apollo, the largest and heaviest mule, also stood an impressive 19.1 hands high, about 77 inches!
These animals’ temperament was the ideal that breeders were trying to reach when combining the qualities of colts and jacks. In them, you have the strength and hardiness of a donkey mixed with the combined temperaments of both parents. Stallions have a tendency to be flighty, or easily spooked, and jacks are known as stubborn and difficult to manage. The mule is a stolid, patient, and generally even-tempered beast.
Mules are found throughout the world. They are located on every continent but Antarctica and their breeding has left them well-suited to handle almost all climates. With their tougher skin, when compared to a stallion, they are less likely to overheat, and they need less food than a horse making foraging easier.
Mules are a human created species and, as such, they have no natural habitat. They can be found anywhere that humans have brought them.
With respect to its diet, the mule is no different than its parents. They eat a wide variety of grasses and small shrubs. If they do not have a large enough area to forage successfully, generally one to two acres, then their diet may be supplemented by hay, grain, or pelletized food.
Another result of the hybridization of the species is that, although they have retained the size of the colt, they only require a fraction of the amount of food necessary to feed a stallion. When not working, they spend the majority of its day eating or resting.
Mule Predators and Threats
The principal threats faced by them are disease. Stallions, donkeys, and mules all face similar diseases such as tetanus, Eastern equine encephalomyelitis, and equine influenza. Appropriate care for the mule, frequent veterinary checkups, and vaccination programs all help to prevent the contraction of these illnesses, or at least to mitigate the effects. Being that they are wholly domestic animals, they do not typically face a threat from any predator.
Mule Reproduction, Babies and Lifespan
As mentioned above, they are bred by cross-breeding a mare with a jack. The mare gives birth to a baby, called a foal, after a gestational period of 11 to 12 months. The average mule lives approximately 30 years, but there have been mules that have lived well into their 40s. Mules, as a rule, are considered to be infertile. All true mules, the males, are always infertile while hinneys, females, have had instances of pregnancy. The main reason for this infertility is due to an odd number of chromosomes as a result of cross-breeding. Donkeys have 62 chromosomes while mules have 63, and this results in their reproductive incompatibility.
These animals exist on six of the seven continents with Antarctica being the exception. They live almost exclusively in human care as, due to the above-discussed fertility issues, they are unable to breed in the wild to sustain a feral herd. Reliable population numbers are nearly impossible to come by; however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported approximately 200,000 mules residing within the United States alone as of 1998. The mule is categorized as a species of least concern.
Mules in the Zoo
These animals are common sights in zoos all across the United States. They are frequently found in petting zoos as well because of their even temperament. The San Diego Zoo has several mules, and they recently donated several to CalFire for use as pack animals in remote wilderness areas of the state to assist in combating wildfires.View all 39 animals that start with M
Mule FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are mules carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?
The mule is an herbivore. They primarily eat grass and small shrubs; however, they are also fed grain or other forms of pelletized food in farming or domestic environments.
Why mules are sterile?
Mules are always sterile due to an extra chromosome that they possess as a result of the cross-breeding necessary to create the species. Hinneys, female mules created by cross-breeding a female jenney with a stallion, have occasionally been known to bear a foal when bred with a horse or donkey although miscarriages are common.
Can a mule have a mule?
Mules are all male, and they are incapable of bearing offspring. The female mule is called a hinney or hinny, and it is a distinct genetic hybrid made from cross-breeding a male stallion with a female jenney. This differs from a mule which is bred by crossing a mare with a jack.
Are mules dangerous?
Mules are less dangerous than their parents. The donkey stubbornness and the skittishness of the colt combine to form an extremely even-tempered animal. A key trait of the mule is that in confined spaces they will not thrash about and injure themselves as a horse tends to. While they are very strong, mules are difficult to provoke, and they are born already domesticated and used to human interaction.
What are mules used for?
Mules are used for a variety of purposes. Throughout history, they have most commonly been used for draft and pack animals; however, they have also been used as mounts, and they even compete in all the same types of equestrian events as horses. The smallest mules were used as draft animals within mines.
What is the difference between a mule and a horse?
Mules are more docile, even-tempered, and more intelligent than stallions. They are slightly smaller but stronger than stallions. A mule also consumes significantly less food than a horse of the same size. Their skin is thicker and better able to withstand temperature extremes and friction as well.
- David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife
- Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
- David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia
- Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species
- David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals
- Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals
- David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) The Encyclopedia Of Mammals
- Britannica, Available here: http://www.britannica.com/animal/mule-mammal
- American Mule Museum, Available here: https://www.mulemuseum.org/history-of-the-mule.html
- Farm Show Magazine (1990) Vol. 14 Iss. 4 Pg. 20, Available here: http://www.farmshow.com/a_article.php?aid=8428
- American Mule Association, Available here: http://americanmuleassociation.org/diseases-that-affect-mules-and-donkeys