J.C. Mattingly: Socratic Rancher 10-17-11
In speaking with people, I find there is a lot of confusion about the difference between a donkey, a jackass, and a burro.
There shouldn’t be a problem because these three are all the same species, Africanus asinus, also known as the Ass Family. This brings a smile, or chuckle to our face, especially when we look at one of the members of this family as he or she wiggles their long ears, or rolls their doleful eyes, or speaks to us with the inimitable bellow of the Consummate Country Caruso.
Generally speaking, the donkey is the larger, sometimes referred to as the Mammoth Ass, while the jackass is the middle-sized, and the burro the smallest. There are miniature donkeys that are smaller even than the typical burro.
If these fail to provide a positive ID to the observer, there is a legal definition of a burro, found in Appendix B of the “Rules In Pack Burro Racing.”
“The following is the definition of a burro and is to be used in selecting a burro. The word ‘burro’ comes from the Spanish word meaning ‘donkey.’ A donkey is defined as being an ass. They have chestnuts on the forelegs only, while other animals of the same species such as mules or horses, have them on hind and forelegs. The tail of an ass has no hair except on its lower part, which has a brush. A registered veterinarian shall have the authority to disqualify any contestant and animal that does not match the above description, or whose animal is sick, doped, injured, or mistreated. The veterinarian will check the animal before and after the race.”
DNA and proxy testing date the wild burro back to well over 10,000 BC, a period of massive mammalian speciation on Earth. There is evidence from Egyptologists that burros were domesticated by the Near East 4,000-5,000 BC as beasts of burden.
Carl Linnaeus placed Asses in the genus equus, which includes horses and zebras. There are two subspecies of Wild Ass, the Somalian Wild Ass and the Nubian Wild Ass, the former having long ears that sometimes extend outward rather than upward. Asses are not going extinct, but rather are being domesticated more and more from the wild, and thus there is speculation that there may be another subclass, or subspecies, dedicated to the domesticated Ass, as some changes in appearance and behavior in the domesticated asses are significant, including miniatures.
Asses and horses interbreed to create mules, a hybrid with a highly desirable vigor as a beast of burden. Asses have 62 sets of chromosomes, mules 63, and horses 64, mules being sterile. Once in a great while a mollie, or female mule, will breed with a jackass and have a foal. Strictly speaking a mule is the cross of a donkey and a mare, while the cross of a stallion and a jenny, though rare, is a separate hybrid known as a hinny. Stallions, as rule, do not recognize donkeys as being of their species.
This same problem is sometimes experienced by politicians who, though they behave like Africanus asinus, would never be recognized by those in the species as a member of their family.