Burro vs Donkey – Is There a Difference?

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: August 29, 2021
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Donkey, burro, ass, jack, jenny, jennet – there are so many different terminologies associated with this sturdy pack animal. You may be wondering, “Was that donkey I saw or rode actually a burro?” Keep reading to learn the history of these similar animals, why distinct names developed, and how you can know which term to use.

Burro vs Donkey

The donkey (Equus asinus) is a domestic equine. It is descended from the African wild ass (Equus africanus).

What about burros? It might be said that all burros are donkeys but not all donkeys are burros. How are they similar? How are they different? Much of the difference is simply a question of semantics – what language are you speaking, and what region of the world are you in?

Beyond language and geography, there are a few characteristics that may distinguish burros from other breeds. While still standard in size, burros are typically on the smaller end of the standard height range. Also, donkeys come in many colors and patterns, but burros are typically grey-brown with a dark stripe down their backs.

Comparing Burros vs. Donkeys

Which terminology should you use – donkey or burro? Consider the following.

Donkey Burro
Language EnglishSpanish or Portugues
Distribution WorldwideSouthwestern North America, South and Central America, Spain
Size 36 to 48 inches at the shoulderSlightly smaller
Fur VariableLong hair, gray or brown coloration

Next, let’s consider each of these aspects in more detail.

The 4 Key Differences Between Donkeys and Burros

All burros are donkeys, but not all donkeys are burros. When deciding which term to use, consider the language spoke, the geographic region, and a few physical factors that make a donkey qualify as a burro.

Donkey vs Burro: Language

In Spanish, burro is the word for donkey. Therefore, if you are in a Spanish-speaking country, all of these animals will be called “burros,” regardless of other traits. The term burro may also be used in a similar language, Portuguese. But in Portuguese, “burro” actually means “stupid,” a trait often falsely applied to donkeys due to their stubborn nature.

In English, all types of donkeys are generally referred to as “donkeys,” though the term burro may be popular in some areas. And this brings us to our next consideration – geography.

Geography

Where does the donkey in question live? This can play a role in whether it is called a donkey or a burro. Since “burro” is the Spanish word for donkeys, donkeys in Spain, Mexico, South, and Central America will almost always be referred to as burros, regardless of size. This is also the case in the Southwestern United States.

Size

Size is one of the physical traits that set burros apart from other donkeys. The shoulder height of a standard donkey ranges from 36 inches to 48 inches. Burros are a shorter donkey breed. While still standard – at least 36 inches in height – they tend to occupy the lower half of this size range. This may be due to the harsh, dry environment of southwestern North America.

Fur – Length and Color

There are many breeds of donkeys with different appearances. The most common is grey-brown with a dark stripe down the back or cross across the shoulders. Others may be solid white, solid black, black, or chocolate brown with white markings, or light with dark spots.

Burros, on the other hand, typically display the most common coloration – grey-brown with a dark stripe or cross.

The fur texture also varies among donkey breeds. While not a rule, burros typically have longer, shaggier hair than other breeds.

Next Up: Lion vs Bear: The five key differences

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About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is a Burro Different From a Donkey?

Burros and donkeys are the same species. Sometimes the word “burro” is used to describe a specific type of donkey that is smaller and has longer hair than do standard donkeys.

What Is the Difference Between a Miniature Donkey and a Burro?

While the type of donkey often called a burro is a smaller donkey, it still ranges within the “standard donkey” height of 36 to 48 inches. Miniature donkeys, on the other hand, stand at less than 36 inches at the shoulder.

What Is the Difference Between a Donkey, a Horse, a Mule, and an Ass?

A donkey, as described above, is a specific equine species. It is in the same taxonomic family as the horse, but the two are distinct species. However, they are closely related and can interbreed. The offspring of a male donkey and a female horse is called a mule. Because the donkey and horse genetics are not 100 percent compatible, mules are usually born sterile, unable to produce offspring.

“Ass” is an old-timey name for a donkey. You’ll find this word used to refer to donkeys in literature such as the Bible. Today, ass is usually used in reference to the African wild ass, the wild equine species from which the donkey was domesticated thousands of years ago.

Is a Small Donkey Called a Burrito?

Technically, yes. The Spanish word for donkey is “burro,” and in Spanish, the suffix “-ito” can be added to a word to mean “little.” So burrito means “little donkey.”

Why then, do we call a popular food item a “little donkey”? One popular explanation is that long ago, a street food seller wrapped rice, beans, meat, and other foods in tortillas because he had no containers to sell them in. He would pack the food in his burro’s saddlebags and take it into town to sell to hungry workers. He was known as the “little donkey peddler,” or, in other words, the “burrito peddler.”

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