Why do donkeys have such big ears?
The answer is painfully simple, and I suppose had I put any thought into it prior to beginning my research I might have figured it out myself. However, I’d have missed out on a ton of interesting facts about donkeys that I didn’t know if I had.
Donkeys, as it turns out, are nothing like horses even though they are part of the Equus family.
I’m almost too embarrassed to explain this because it’s so obvious.
Wild donkeys live in the desert, which means food is scarce and the herd tends to spread out foraging. These enormous gaps require donkeys to hear if their mate bellows out, which is why they bray rather than neigh, by the way. They can hear a bray from 60 miles away. I apologize for all the rhyming there.
Also, as deserts tend to be rather warm, the large surface area of the ears helps keep donkeys cool.
Their legs and feet
It should be noted that donkeys are basically ninjas as they can kick backwards, forwards and sideways. And while they are busy kicking, you may notice they don’t have chestnuts on the hind legs.
Due to their straight hocks, shoulders and upright oval feet, donkeys can be a little bouncy to ride. Those small narrow feet offer little in the way of shock absorption as their frogs rarely contact the ground and their tight heels barely spread as they trot along.
Having straighter hock and shoulder angles means donkeys can’t pull as heavy a load as horses and ponies and shouldn’t be asked to pull more than their own weight.
It’s easy to assume donkeys are stubborn but that isn’t the case. They’re calculating animals but not in a bad way. If they appear reluctant to do something, it’s likely because they’re worried about their safety and are surveying the area for possible threats. They aren’t contrary, they are smart.
Unlike horses, donkeys don’t show fear or stress outwardly. If a horse spooks at something, everyone knows about it, especially whoever is in the saddle. Their primary goal is to quickly get as far away as possible from the *scary thing*. Donkeys, on the other hand, will either put the binders on or attack their prey. This attack-y attitude is why donkeys are sometimes used as livestock guardians, though dogs and llamas are often preferred.
Donkeys are able to ward off a single fox, coyote, dog and possibly a bobcat by using their ability to kick in virtually every direction or charge, with teeth bared, and bite. Their bray can sometimes be enough for the threat to turn tail.
In a group there is no dominant donkey, instead, they all work together and look out for one another. If there is an injured donkey, the group with stay with them or apparently, if domesticated, will turn to humans for help. Horses, in comparison, will just leave their friend to die. Not a very appealing trait, but donkeys have larger brains than a horse and I suppose that gives them the ability to have larger feelings as well.
Donkeys bond with their humans more than horses and don’t do well with changing homes and ownership. It’s helpful if they are kept in pairs, which is useful in stressful situations, such as a visit from the vet.
Wild donkeys require less protein than horses and survive on coarse grass, leaves, bark, branches, thistles and things of that nature. Wild horses migrate in search of food, whereas donkeys, due to their questionable palette, feel no need because they will just eat bark from a tree rather than search for that pretentious lush grass.
Because donkeys come from the desert where food is scarce, they utilize 95% of what they eat. Their digestive system can break down inedible vegetation and extract moisture from food more efficiently than horses and in turn, means their manure is a rather useless fertilizer. Just in case you were wondering.
Their life span
Donkeys can live for over 50 years, most notably when living in drier climates where they are less likely to become too heavy. Due to living longer, they mature mentally and physically slower than horses with their bones hardening around the age of six.
Donkeys tend to be a little like cats in the sense that they are inclined to mask pain, discomfort and possible illness as a means of self-preservation from predators. Donkeys also have a less sensitive cough reflex than horses and respiratory problems in our long-eared friends can go unnoticed.
Their pain management
Donkeys require more medication than horses because donkeys have a higher drug metabolism rate. If a donkey is prescribed NSAIDs for pain, they will likely be given two doses per day rather than a single dose for horses. They also require larger amounts of sedatives and anesthetics than horses.
Donkeys have a wider field of vision than horses as their eyes are proportionately larger and wider set. Donkeys can see their hind feet—in fact, they can see all their feet in a single glance. I can honestly say I’ve never thought about whether or not a horse can see their hind feet. It’s a curious piece of information.
A donkey’s coat differs greatly from a horse’s as they lack a protective undercoat and oils as a form of skin protection. Also, their hair isn’t laid out in an effective manner for water to shed easily and therefore, it’s important for donkeys to have shelter from inclement weather.
A few other things
- A group of donkeys is called a drove, herd or pace.
- Donkeys have 62 chromosomes, horses have 64 and mules have…63.
- Donkeys have five lumbar vertebrae and horses have six.
- Donkeys are cooler than horses as their body temperature sits between 36.2–37.8°C whereas horses sit between 37.5–38°C.
- It’s common for male donkeys to have teats and they have proportionately larger reproductive organs than horses.
And that’s a wrap
No doubt that I’ve missed a bunch of differences between our Equus friends, but I think it’s a fair start.