Ass, Burro, Donkey, and there’s more! Which is which and why? Learn the terminology and meanings here.
In this article: donkey terms, markings, size, and a source of further information.
The correct term for the animal commonly known as the donkey, burro, or jackstock. The term comes from the original Latin term for the animal which was Asinus. The scientific term for these animals is Equus asinus. The term fell into disrepute through confusion with the indelicate term “Arse” meaning the human backside. You are never at fault when you refer to one of these animals as an ass, and the term is not improper unless you misuse it so yourself. The difference between asses and horses is a species difference. You might compare it to the differences between zebras and horses, different species but closely related and able to interbreed to a degree.
The term used for the male of the ass species. Thus, the often used term Jackass – which is correct if redundant. Jacks are called stallions in the UK, but stallion is reserved for horses and zebra males in the US.
Pronounced JEN-et, the correct term for the female of the species. The more commonly used term is Jenny, which is considered correct in non-technical use. The term mare is used for horse and zebra females in the US. (But a jennet is a mare in the UK)
A word taken directly from Spain. It means the common, everyday working donkey found in Spain and Mexico. It came into usage in the Western United States. As a general rule, the term burro is heard West of the Mississippi and the term Donkey, east of the Mississippi. Burro is not appropriate for use in referring to Miniature Donkeys or Jackstock.
These are the feral (descended from domestic stock that has gone wild over generations) asses which run wild in the Western part of the United States. The American Donkey and Mule Society and Bureau of Land Management (who are in charge of the Wild Burro population) prefer to keep the term Burro for these animals.
(Jackstock) The term for plural of the American Mammoth Jack and Jennet. These animals are properly termed Asses and not donkeys, and never called burros. They are one of the largest of the types of the ass species.
The proper term for a gelded (castrated, or “altered” male ass. An informal term is John (a modified form of Jack).
Spanish Jack or Spanish Donkey:
ADMS does not accept this terminology unless the animal has written documented proof of importation of itself or its immediate ancestors from Spain. This holds for animals which people call by the breed names of foreign breeds such as Catalonian, Maltese, or Andalusian. These breeds as pure strains are rare even in Spain, and are non-existent in the US. The term Spanish Donkey is found in common usage meaning a large standard donkey The ancestry of most of the donkeys in the United States is predominantly a blend of all of the Spanish breeds. In any case, the term is inexact and is not good usage.
Not a mule, but a jackass used to breed mares to obtain mules.
Jackass used to breed to jennets (the female of the species) in order to produce more donkeys. A good breeder uses only the finest of jacks for this purpose.
Slang, commonly used, although not recognized as a proper term.
The terms jack and jennet have been abandoned and turned to stallion and mare instead. Also, a hinny is commonly called a jennet in England.
Markings and Size
The Cross: Refers to a line of darker hairs starting at the top of the head and running to the end of the tail. (Dorsal stripe) This is crossed at the withers with another darker line of hair (the shoulder stripe) forming a cross. The shoulder stripe may be long, very short, thin, wide, fading or dashed, but nearly all donkeys have some form of this marking. The exceptions are the Mammoth asses which have been bred away from this marking, and true black animals where the cross is not visible. Even spotted animals or white-appearing donkeys may have partial or faint crosses. This trait is very dominant. The presence of this marking on donkeys has led to many lovely legends in the Christian religion. The term Jerusalem donkey is often incorrectly applied to donkeys with the normal cross marking. It is a nickname, and not a true breed or type.
Markings: In addition to the cross, many donkeys have dark markings on the ears, as “garters” (zebra marks) around the legs, or as “zippers” down the inside of the forelegs. Small black spots on the sides of the throat, called collar buttons, may also be seen, as well as a dark line (ventral stripe) down the belly.
White Points: When registering donkeys, white points are so universally normal that only the absence of them is to be noted. It is normal for a donkey to have short, fine, light colored hair on the muzzle (although the lips themselves will have darker hair), ringing the eyes, on the belly and inside of the legs. A donkey that does not have these points is seen as unusual but are not too uncommon. The gene for No Light Points (*NLP) appears to be recessive. A few donkeys will have only a small patch of lighter (tan, not the usual soft white) hair only a the side of the muzzle, with dark around the eyes and a tan belly. This is noted in registration papers as an Intermediate Black
Muzzle: Just having dark lips, with the fine muzzle hair being light, is not a black muzzle.
Common Sizes of Mules or Donkeys
Miniature = 36″ or less at the withers
Small Standard = 36.01″ up to 40″
Standard = 40.01″ up to 48″
Large Standard = jennets are 48.01″ up to 54″, jacks are 48.01″ up to 56″
Mammoth = jennets are 54.01″ and over, jacks are 56.01″ and over
“Standard Donkey” and the origin and breeding is given as Wild Burro.
Donkey: Taken from England, the derivation is uncertain, but most authorities think that the name comes from dun (the usual color) and the suffix “ky” meaning small. Thus “a little dun animal”. In earlier England the word Ass was taken from the Roman word for the animal. “Donkey” is a relatively recent variation of the species name.
Didn’t find what you were looking for? You’ll find a wealth of information about donks and mules HERE.