The offspring of a female horse and a male donkey, mules are appealing because they possess the strength of horses and the common sense, hardiness, and calmess of donkeys. If a male horse and a female donkey are mated, their offspring is not a mule; rather, those animals are called hinnies.
Scientific & Common Names
Mules are not a species and do not have a scientific name. Scientists classify them as crosses between horses (Equus caballus) and donkeys (Equus assinus).
Horses have 64 chromosomes, and donkeys have 62 chromosomes. Mules, however, have 63 chromosomes. Mules appear similar to horses, except for their long ears. The muscles of mules are also smoother than those of horses, giving mules greater endurance than horses and more athleticism than donkeys. Mules come in several sizes, depending on the type of horse the mother was. They can be miniature, standard, or draft sized animals. They come in all the colors that horses do--brown, tan, black, white, and gray.
Most mules are sterile. However, to get a mule owners breed female horses with male donkeys. Mares carry a mule foal for about 11 1/2 months. Male mules should be castrated because they will still have the desire to mate but their sperm will not be viable. Female mules will still come into heat but because of her odd chromosome number her eggs will not be viable.
Mules are used for riding, pulling, and as pack animals because they are sure-footed and possess superior endurance. They behave similarly to both donkeys and horses but they are less flighty than horses. While a horse will spook and run, when a mule is startled it will freeze. Some people have characterized mules as stubborn. However, this is incorrect. Mules simply have an incredible instinct for self-preservation, so if a mule perceives a threat, it may freeze up. Good training and gentle handling can allow people to earn the trust of their mules and prevent "freezing" in unfamiliar situations.
The mule has been deliberately bred for millenia and is even mentioned in the Bible as a mount for King David. In Ancient Egypt, mules were the preferred pack animal. The use of the mule spread from the Middle East to Europe, and soon the ancient Greeks and Romans used them. In 1495, Christopher Columbus brought donkeys and horses to the New World. These animals were used to create mules in North and South America.
In the United States, mules are kept by hobbyists just for fun and by Amish/Mennonite families for farm work. However, across the globe, poor people use the mule for farming. It has been estimated that 15 million mules exist across the world, and 90 percent of those mules live in third world nations.