A-z - Animals

mule

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"A stupid mule is always smarter than a good horse and a bad guy."

What is a mule? The mule is a genetic hybrid that has been the workhorse of human civilization for thousands of years. Stronger than a horse but gentler than a donkey, the mule combines all the best elements of both breeds to become a staple of agricultural pursuits worldwide.

mule-1

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Unbelievable Mule Facts!

  • What is a mule? A mule is the offspring of a jackass and a mare.
  • Mules were intentionally created animals in ancient times to accentuate the best features of stallions and donkeys.
  • Because mules have 63 chromosomes — a mix of 64 from horses and 62 from donkeys — most mules are sterile.
  • One of the earliest recorded instances of a mule appeared in ancient Egypt around 3000 BC.
  • They compete in all the same equestrian competitions, including dressage, as horses.
A mule is a cross between a jackass and a mare.

© Einar Faanes / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

scientific name

These animals are members of the equine family in the genus Equus . Their scientific name is Equus mulus , and although the name differs, it applies to both males and females of the species. A mule is a cross between a jackass (called a jack) and a female horse (called a mare). Equus is Latin for horse and mulus is Latin for mule.

evolution

Mules have a long and storied history, playing important roles in civilizations around the world. Horses originated in Central Asia around 3500 BC and extended their range across the world—eventually extending to the range of donkeys, which originated in Africa. Mules are known to have been bred in Mesopotamia as far back as 1000 BC. There is evidence in art and ancient writings that mules were present at a number of important events – they are illustrated in a painting from the tomb of Nebamun at Thebes around 1350 BC. Mules appeared in Israel in the time of King David, and Homer mentions mules in the Iliad of 800 BC. George Washington kept mules at Mount Vernon. Mules pulled wagon trains across the American plains, which could cover 30 miles in a day, compared with only 5 miles for horses. Mules are known the world over for their great strength and docile demeanor.



appearance and behavior

Mules are animals that look exactly like they really are, the genetic cross between a stallion and a donkey. Although usually brown or gray, they can be any hair and color on horses and donkeys. They are bigger and leaner than jacks, and smaller but stronger than ponies. Their heads are shorter and thicker, more like those of a donkey, while their ears are longer than those of a horse, but shorter than those of a donkey.

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mule rest
Mules are mild-tempered and strong-bodied, making them ideal for agricultural work.

©BlackDorianstock/Shutterstock.com

These animals average between 50 and 70 inches tall and weigh between 600 and 1,500 pounds. Tiny animals weighing as little as 50 pounds have been bred, with the largest recorded male weighing 2,200 pounds. This weight can range from the weight of a medium-sized male pit bull to the combined weight of two grizzlies. The largest and heaviest mule, Apollo, also stands at 19.1 palm height, about 77 inches, which is impressive!

The temperament of these animals is the ideal that breeders try to achieve when combining the qualities of a pony and a jack. In them, you have both the fortitude of a donkey and the comprehensive temperament of both parents. Stallions have a tendency to be flighty or easily frightened, while Jacks have a reputation for being stubborn and difficult to manage. A mule is a slow, patient, and usually even-tempered beast.

donkey vs mule
Mules are found all over the world and can handle almost all climates.

©Ezequiel Laprida/Shutterstock.com

Habitat

Mules are found all over the world. They can be found on every continent except Antarctica, and their breeding makes them well suited to nearly any climate. Their skin is tougher and they are less likely to overheat than stallions, and they require less food than horses, so foraging is easier.

Mules are a species created by humans and as such, they have no natural habitat. They can be found anywhere humans bring them.

diet

Two mules drinking water
Mules eat a variety of grasses and small shrubs and require less food than stallions.

© Elgaard / CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – License

In terms of diet, mules are no different from their parents. They eat a variety of grasses and small shrubs. If they don't have a large enough area to forage successfully, usually one to two acres, their diet can be supplemented with hay, grain, or pelleted food.

Another consequence of hybridization of this species is that although they maintain their foal size, they require only a fraction of the amount of food required to feed a stallion. When not working, they eat or rest most of the day.

Predators and Threats

donkey vs mule
Mules have no natural predators, but require frequent veterinary checkups and vaccinations.

© slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

The main threat to mules is disease. Stallions, donkeys and mules all face similar diseases such as tetanus, eastern equine encephalomyelitis and equine flu. Proper care for mules, frequent veterinary check-ups, and a vaccination program can all help prevent contracting these diseases, or at least lessen the impact. Since they are completely domesticated animals, they usually do not face any threat from predators.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

Mule (Equus Mule) - Baby Standing in the Grass
Mules can live into their 40s.

©Michael Hansen/Shutterstock.com

As mentioned above, mules are bred by crossing mares with bulls. After a gestation period of 11 to 12 months, a mare gives birth to a baby, called a foal. The average lifespan of a mule is about 30 years, but some mules can live into their 40s. Because mules have an odd number of chromosomes, 63, they are, in fact, often sterile. However, there are also instances of female mules giving birth.

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population

These animals are found on six of the seven continents, except Antarctica. Because of the aforementioned fertility issues, they are almost entirely dependent on human care, and they are largely unable to reproduce in the wild to maintain wild populations. Reliable population figures are nearly impossible to obtain; however, as of 1998, the United States Department of Agriculture reported that there were approximately 200,000 mules in the United States alone. Mules are classified as the species of least concern.

Mule (Equus mule) - on the grass
Mules live on every continent except Antarctica, and enjoy the least-concerned conservation status.

©Korawat Photography/Shutterstock.com

in the zoo

These animals are common in zoos across the United States. Due to their peaceful disposition, they are also often found in petting zoos. The San Diego Zoo has several mules they recently donated to CalFire to be used as pack animals in remote wilderness areas of the state to help fight wildfires.

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about the author

Lisa Pace


After a career providing opportunities for local communities to experience and create art, I enjoy having time to write about two of my favorite things – nature and animals. I spend half my life outside, usually with my husband and adorable 14 year old puppy. We enjoyed walking around the lake and taking photos of the animals we encountered including: otters, osprey, Canada geese, ducks and nesting bald eagles. I also enjoy reading, discovering books to add to my library, collecting and playing vinyl records, and listening to my son's music.

Mule FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are mules carnivores, herbivores or omnivores?

Mules are herbivores. They mainly eat grass and small shrubs. However, they are also fed grains or other forms of pelleted food in agricultural or domestic settings.

Why are mules sterile?

Mules are almost always sterile because they have 63 chromosomes. However, there are also examples of female mules giving birth successfully.

Can mules have mules?

Mules are basically sterile. However, even if they could, by the nature of a mule—a cross between a donkey and a horse—a mule cannot beget a mule.

Are mules dangerous?

Mules are less dangerous than their parents. The stubbornness of the donkey and the timidity of the foal combine to form a remarkably peaceful animal. A key feature of mules is that they don't scurry around and injure themselves in tight spaces like horses. Although they are strong, mules are difficult to tease, and they are already domesticated and used to socializing with people.

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What is the mule for?

Mules serve a variety of purposes. Throughout history, they have been used most often as draft and pack animals; however, they have also been used as mounts, and they even compete in all equestrian competitions of the same type as horses. The smallest mules are used as draft animals in mines.

What is the difference between a mule and a horse?

There are many differences between mules and horses:
Mules are more docile, even-tempered, and smarter than stallions. They are slightly smaller than stallions but stronger. A mule also consumes much less food than a horse of the same size. Their skin is thicker and better able to withstand temperature extremes and friction.

To which kingdom does the mule belong?

Mules belong to the animal kingdom.

What door does the mule belong to?

Mules belong to the phylum Chordate.

What class do mules belong to?

Mules belong to the class Mammalia.

What family do mules belong to?

Mules belong to the equine family.

What order do mules belong to?

Mules belong to the order Perissodactyla.

What genus do mules belong to?

Mules belong to the genus Equus.

What type of mulch do mules have?

Mules are covered with fur.

what is the mule's main prey

Mules eat grass, weeds and vegetables.

Who are the mule's natural enemies?

Predators of mules include foxes, wolves and lions.

How many children does the mule have?

On average, a mule gives birth to 1 child.

What are some interesting facts about mules?

Mules are descendants of horses and donkeys!

What is the scientific name of the mule?

The mule's scientific name is Equus mulus.

What is the lifespan of a mule?

Mules can live 15 to 20 years.

How fast is a mule?

Mules can travel at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.

What is the difference between a mule and a donkey?

An important difference between mules and donkeys is that donkeys can breed while mules cannot.

What is the difference between a mule and a donkey?

A stallion and a jackass bear a jackass, and a stallion and a jackass bear a mule.

What is the difference between a mule and a donkey?

The key difference between a donkey and a mule is that a donkey is simply a domesticated donkey that is smaller than a mule and is mostly used in underdeveloped countries. A mule is a hybrid of a donkey and a horse, usually larger and used as a pack animal.

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source
  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animals, The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
  3. David Burney, Kingfisher (2011) The Animal Encyclopedia of Kingfishers
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) Atlas of Threatened Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Animal Encyclopedia
  7. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) Encyclopedia of Mammals
  8. Encyclopaedia Britannica, available here: http://www.britannica.com/animal/mule-mammal
  9. Museum of the American Mule, available here: https://www.mulemuseum.org/history-of-the-mule.html
  10. The Farm Show Magazine (1990) Vol. 14. 4 pages. 20, available here: http://www.farmshow.com/a_article.php?aid=8428
  11. American Mule Association, available here: http://americanmuleassociation.org/diseases-that-affect-mules-and-donkeys