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Mule Musings and More!

Frankly Speaking by Frank Jordan

On a recent call-in to my “live” radio health-talk show, we received an unusual question from a caller asking if she could be allergic to a mule and exactly what was a mule as compared to a donkey? 

Being from the country I prepared to answer, but before I could respond, my citified lady doctor from California with certainty explained, “You get a mule when you cross a horse with a dog and since many people have allergies related to dogs, maybe you could.”  Not being able to help myself, I corrected her to say, “No, Doctor, when you cross a horse with a dog, you get a hog!” 

Now before you get all smug about mule musings, lets set the record straight by reporting when a male donkey (or ass) known as a jack is crossed with a female horse (or mare), a mule is produced.  Note, contrary to current interpretations, a jack-ass is just a male donkey. Although rare, a male horse can be crossed with a female donkey called a jenny to produce a hinny. 

Just in case you are curious, the offspring of a zebra-donkey relationship is called a zonkey – no kidding! The human derivative of the zonkey can be seen in the Liberty County Jail late most Saturday nights, but I cannot confirm this is why in earlier times these human zonkeys had horizontal stripes when incarcerated.

There is no truth in the myth when you cross a whippoorwill with a donkey you get a “whinny”, but in extremely rare instances you can get a donkey that flies!   OK, donkeys can’t fly, but the Bible tells us in Numbers 22:28 that “The Lord opened the mouth of the donkey” and the donkey spoke to Balaam. Did you know in 1800 BC the city of Damascus in the Middle-East, as a major trading enclave, was known as the “City of Asses?”  Several U.S. cities now compete for the title in America.

Mary, traveling with Joseph to Jerusalem while pregnant with the Christ-child, also rode a donkey.  Jesus in His final days on earth rode a donkey into Jerusalem before being crucified.  Legend tells us the cross imprint found on the shoulders of donkeys comes from the shadow of Christ’s crucifixion, signifying His donkey was there that day at the foot of the cross.

Why are mules almost always sterile?  Be impressed that you now know horse-donkey hybrids have 63 chromosomes, wherein horses have 64 and donkeys have 62.  If you don’t know why that makes them sterile, I don’t either; but I also don’t know how airplanes fly – they just do.

The military has used mules for years in difficult terrain from hot arid regions to extremely mountainous because a mule can travel much greater distances with heavier loads than horses, while requiring minimal water and food in transit.  A donkey is often kept with other livestock because their kicks and ability to fight can be deadly to predators such as coyotes. Thus the term “you’re going to get an ass-kicking” has a positive meaning to a rancher, but is much feared by varmints both four and two legged!

The donkey, or ass, is a domesticated member of the Euidae, or horse family, officially titled, “Equus africanuus asinus.”  Since the bad guys in early westerns just could not say, “There’s the Sheriff, let’s haul equus africanuus asinus”, the name was shortened to just “ass.” 

Donkeys came to the new world when Christopher Columbus brought four jacks and two jennys on his journey. President George Washington imported European donkeys to create a stronger and larger breed, known as the American line of Mammoth Jacks. Now we have miniatures that make loving pets.

You have now had a learning experience in mule musings and more.  Frankly speaking, you don’t have to thank me, but appreciate from this day forward you can no longer be truthfully classified by friend or foe as a dumb equus africanuus asinus!  You’re welcome.

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