Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Ass, any individual of the old genus Asinus, now merged in Equus. Asses are distinguished from horses by their generally smaller size, long ears, upright mane, short hair at the root of the tail and a tuft at the extremity, in the presence of warts on the fore legs only, a distinct line on the back, and the persistence of stripes. This definition includes the Dauw, the Quagga, and the Zebra (all which see), and is so used by zoologists. Popularly the term is restricted to wild forms without body stripes, and to the domesticated species (Equus asinus), or donkey. The wild ass of Abyssinia (Equus taeniopus), which is faintly striped on the hind legs, is generally supposed to be the parent of the domestic form; though some authorities consider that the original stock is lost, and that the so-called wild asses are only the descendants of individuals that have escaped from a state of domestication. The ass was reduced to the service of man at a very remote period, probably in the East - for these animals are mentioned in the Book of Genesis - certainly in a warm, dry climate, as is evinced by their repugnance to cross water (which is shared by the camel) and their habit of rolling in the dust. The colour of the common ass is generally some shade of grey, with a dark stripe on the back and streak on the shoulder, the whole forming a cross-like figure. Black and white varieties occur; and in the East white asses have long been reserved for the use of persons of high rank. In Britain the ass is especially the poor man's beast of burden, for which its patience, endurance, and ability to subsist on hard fare, peculiarly fit it. Its small size is probably due far more to want of care in breeding than to cold, for in Western India there is a breed still smaller than our form, and not much larger than a Newfoundland dog. From about the beginning of the latter half of the nineteenth century there has been a great improvement in the British breed of asses, especially in and around the Metropolis. This is in great measure due to the exertions of the late Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-85), who did much to teach the costermongers of London that self-interest, if no higher motive, should lead them to care for their beasts of burden; and now one may often see in costermongers' barrows asses carefully groomed, capable of a respectable rate of speed without the application of whip or stick, and by no means open to the proverbial reproach of stupidity. In Spain asses are carefully bred, and as much as £200 has been paid for a stallion ass for breeding purposes. Entire asses are largely imported from Spain, Malta, and France, into Kentucky, where they are used for breeding mules. The male ass is capable of procreation at two years old, and the female goes eleven months with her foal. Hybrids between the horse and ass are common.