Thank you so much for your positive feedback to our first Fact Friday! This week's fact is in honour of Jackie, one of our wonderful supporters who inspired us with her lovely profile picture featuring our handsome donkey, Duke!
The French composer Camille Saint-Saëns called them the “Persons with long ears”, and he wasn’t wrong! Horses are famous for their long faces and while their appearances are similar, there’s no missing the difference between the long ears of a donkey in comparison to a horse. So, what is the reason for these lengthy auricles? (The visible part of ears outside of the head).
Wild asses such as donkeys originally evolved in arid locations in Africa and Asia, and their bodies adapted to life in this environment! As you might expect, these large ears serve them superbly for hearing, and living in the desert this means they are able to hear other donkeys calling over the wide expanse of the area – particularly useful as unlike horses who tend to graze in herds; donkey herds spread out to graze due to the sparsity of grazing areas available across the dry desert land. A donkey is said to be able to hear another donkey’s call from as far as 60 miles (96.5km) away in the desert! This is also particularly useful when alerting each other about the presence of predators in the area who might be creeping up on them.
They can move their ears in different directions to pinpoint where a sound is coming from, and they are also able to use them to communicate how they are feeling, just like your dog might – what might both ears straight up and alert mean? Ears flat back?
What you may not know is that their ears are also perfectly adapted for helping them to keep cool as well, another nod towards their original desert home! The larger surface area helps to dissipate heat by releasing warmth from their body into the air by the presence of blood vessels across their ears.
Their ears are so sensitive, they can even hear your heart beating when you are near them. This keen hearing ability means that they can pick up on subtle messages that your body will give out to them without you even realising, such as being able to sense if you are agitated or nervous as your heart rate increases. So, remember this as you approach a donkey! Try to stay calm, be quiet and gentle and help them to feel your kind intentions towards them with their amazing senses, because you are literally sharing your heart with them.
So, next time you see Duke’s big floppy ears, remember, those ears are highly evolved for several purposes, and just two of the things that make him so very special!