Does Every Donkey Have A Cross On Their Back? If So, Why?


Donkeys are a popular farmyard and domesticated animal for their gentle and patient nature, affectionate behavior, and the hilarious noises they make. 

One of the most distinguishing features of a donkey is its dark cross on its back. If you’ve ever wondered if all donkeys possess this unique cross, or why their bodies are designed with such a bizarre pattern, you’re not alone. Turns out, not many people know about the elusive cross on a donkey’s back! 

Whatever your reason for clicking on this article, we’ve got you covered. Here is everything you need to know about the cross on a donkey’s back. 

Does Every Donkey Have A Cross On Their Back?

While it’s not easy to account for every single donkey in the world, the answer to this question is a resounding yes – every donkey does have a cross on their back. Virtually every single donkey has some form of dark cross patterned on their back! 

The cross itself runs all the way to the middle of the donkey’s back in a slim line of dark hair, with a similar line crossed over the donkey’s shoulder blades. The visibility of this cross will vary depending on the coat of the donkey – for example, light-colored donkeys have a darker and more distinctive cross than dark-colored donkeys. 

This means that in some rare cases, just because you can’t see a cross on a donkey, it doesn’t mean the cross isn’t there at all. Black and dark brown donkeys still possess a cross, but it’s just not that pigmented. Plus, the cross can often fade as the donkey ages. 

Why Do Donkeys Have A Cross On Their Back?

So, if every donkey has a cross on their back, then why? Turns out there are several explanations for this elusive cross: the religious explanations and the scientific ones. Unfortunately, everyone seems to have different opinions as to why donkeys possess a cross on their back, but it’s good to know about these opinions regardless. 

The Biblical Explanation 

The most commonly known explanation for the cross on a donkey’s back is a biblical one. It is said that Jesus traveled to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey before his crucifixion.

The donkey wanted to continue helping Jesus by bringing the wooden cross (where he was to be crucified) up to him, but he couldn’t do this because of the growing crowd.

After the crucifixion, the donkey stayed by Jesus as the crowd dispersed. The sun went down, allowing for the shadow of the cross to imprint on the back of the donkey.  

The biblical reason why all donkeys have this cross is due to Jesus’s great love and affection for the animal. In his way of honoring the noble help of the little donkey, he imprinted a cross on every donkey’s back as a permanent sign of gratitude. 

This story has been told for thousands of years, but it was never actually told in the Bible, which is why there are a couple of variations. 

Another telling of this story is that Jesus tells God about the generosity and kindness of the donkey after he was crucified. The cross was then imprinted on every donkey in the world by God as His way of thanking the noble little donkey, making them a holy animal. 

The Scientific Explanation

If you’re not religious (or perhaps you don’t believe the religious explanations because they weren’t written in the Bible), then you’re probably looking for an explanation that makes more sense.

It’s not possible to get an imprint of a cross on the back of a donkey’s body because of a shadow, after all. That would be like getting the opposite of a permanent sunburn. 

The scientific explanation is that the cross on a donkey’s back is a genetic trait. This trait is a singular gene that causes camouflage colors and mismatched colors in horses.

As donkeys have existed for thousands of years, researchers believe that the cross came about after generations of genetic makeup modifications, which then resulted in the shape of a cross.

It is also believed that cross breeding donkeys has contributed to the distinctive cross we know today on all donkeys.  

Some other researchers believe that horses, zebras, and donkeys belonged to the same family some 3 million years ago, but became separated. The stripes of zebra-related donkeys eventually became the shape of an established cross. 

It’s important to remember that genetic makeup modifications occur over thousands of years. These things don’t just happen over a matter of decades – for every donkey in the world to have a distinctive cross on their back, this will have taken thousands and thousands of years for the singular gene to establish itself in the shape of a cross. 

It makes sense why some Christians believe that the cross on a donkey’s back is a holy sign. It does seem a little odd that the singular gene has taken place in the shape of a consistent cross (of all the shapes) on every single donkey. But with the logic of singular genes, the cross could have come out in any shape. 

Are Donkeys Born With A Cross? 

Yes, all donkeys are born with a cross! The cross isn’t something that eventually appears once they reach maturity. The only time the cross might fade is if the donkey gets old, where the cross might look slightly lighter than it used to be. Despite this, a donkey will have a cross on its back from the moment it’s born to the day it dies. 

What Donkeys Don’t Have A Cross On Their Back?

So, here’s where it gets complicated. While pretty much every donkey in the world possesses a cross on their back, it’s not always the case.

Remember, the scientific explanation is that the cross is a genetic trait, so if a particular breed of donkey does not possess a cross on their back, it’s because the cross never existed in the genetic makeup of its ancestors in the first place. 

The Somali wild ass, for example, is one of the few breeds of donkeys that doesn’t have a cross on its back. This is purely because the cross never existed in the breed’s ancestry.

However, the Somali wild ass is known for its unique striped legs, which further supports the other scientific opinion that suggests donkeys developed their cross because of their past relationship to zebras. 

Do Other Animals Have A Cross On Their Back?

Another reason why scientists don’t agree with the biblical explanation as to why every donkey has a cross on their back is because there are other animals that possess similar shapes on their coats.

It’s all down to genetic makeup modifications, after all. If a cross or similar shape ever existed in a species’ ancestry, then it will occur in that species to this day. 

Other animals that possess a cross on their back include Okapis and wild bears. Interestingly, Okapis are not related to zebras (despite their uniquely striped appearance), which further complicates the scientific explanation as to why all donkeys possess a cross on their back. It’s all very confusing. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Kind Of Donkey Has A Cross On It?

Technically speaking, virtually every kind of donkey has a cross on its back. However, when people think about the cross on a donkey’s back, they mostly think about the Nubian donkey (also known as the Jerusalem donkey).

According to Christianity, the cross was given to all donkeys as a symbol of Jesus’s gratitude to the kind donkey who took him to Jerusalem before he was crucified. It is believed that this donkey was a Nubian donkey, which is why it is most commonly associated with the cross. 

Why Did Jesus Use A Donkey?

It is believed that Jesus used a donkey to travel to Jerusalem because a donkey is a symbol of peace, as opposed to a horse that was a symbol of war. 

What Is The Biblical Meaning Of A Donkey? 

According to Christianity, a donkey is portrayed as a symbol of peace, humility, service, and suffering. Christianity states that Jesus was carried to Jerusalem to be crucified on a donkey as a symbol of peace rather than war, because he was ready to die without an unnecessary fight.

It makes sense that a donkey is known as a symbol of peace also because of their kind and gentle nature that we know today. 

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