What is the Difference Between Shrimp and Prawns?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 24 February 2017
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Many consumers and restaurants use the terms “shrimp” and “prawns” interchangeably. Terminology also varies from nation to nation, which can make matters even more confusing. In fact, shrimp and prawns are closely related, but there are a few distinguishing features which divide the two. Unfortunately for most consumers, these features are usually obscured in the harvesting and cooking process, so unless a person has captured the crustaceans himself, he may never know which he is eating.

Starting with the similarities can help to highlight the differences between shrimp and prawns. Both are decapod crustaceans, meaning that they have exoskeletons and 10 legs. They can be found in salt and fresh water all over the world, typically swimming in search of food. Both shrimp and prawns tend to stay near the ocean floor. They also have similar flavors, and come in a wide range of sizes from minuscule to quite large.

Culinarily, many people distinguish between shrimp and prawns on the basis of size. “Prawns” are considered to be larger, while shrimp are smaller. In terms of biology, however, things get a bit more complex, since the two crustaceans are in different suborders, indicating key biological differences between them. Prawns are in the suborder Dendobranchiata, while shrimp are classified as Pleocyemata.


The primary difference is the gill structure. Shrimp have branching gills, while prawns have lameller gills with a platelike structure. There are a few other distinguishing features. The front pincers of shrimp are typically the largest, while prawns have bigger second pincers. Prawns also have longer legs. These differences may seem subtle, but they indicate different steps along the evolutionary path of both creatures.

Numerous varieties of both creatures are harvested for consumption. Some common shrimp species include spot, pink, white, and brown shrimp, along with Northern shrimp. Prawns that may be found at the fishmonger include tiger, deep water, bay, and king prawns.

Conservation organizations urge consumers to use caution when purchasing prawns and shrimp, since many are caught and farmed in nations with lax environmental and fishing regulations. The United States in particular has made major changes in the legislation governing shrimp farming, in the hopes of making it more sustainable, so that farmed in America is a reasonable choice at the grocery store. Wild-caught Northern shrimp are also good buys, as are spot prawns.


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Post 38

"I have been researching crustaceans for past eight years or more now..."

So, are you saying, that when two different creatures have two different locations of their largest limb or "pincers", two different biological suborders, two different methods of reproduction, two different "head/thorax/abdomen" structures, and two different methods of farming/raising, that they have, in your words, "practically" no difference between the two?

Post 36

I don't know. When I lived in England and ordered giant prawns, they tasted sweeter, somehow, than shrimp.

Post 34

As an Aussie, we almost exclusively say prawn. Only exception was that horrible ad aimed at Americans years ago.

Post 33

I was born and raised in San Francisco, and the Bay Shrimp are wonderful, and make a wonderful, delicious salad or sandwich. I have lived on the East Coast (New York, Virginia and DC) for the past 10 years and fish markets have never heard of Bay Shrimp. Peculiar, as the cost of flying the shrimp meat to the east coast would really increase the cost of a meal. I buy the canned and it tastes just as good.

Does anyone know how to get these Bay Shrimp on the East Coast?

Post 31

I have been researching crustaceans for past eight years or more now, and there is practically no difference between a shrimp and a prawn. The only difference is penaeid and non penaeid in them and both of these groups could be either small or large in size.

As far as eggs are concerned, penaeids never carry eggs on the belly; they are in the form of ovary embedded in the body, and non penaeids carry eggs on their belly and are also called carrideans.

Post 30

thanks for the lesson. I always thought the live ones in a restaurant's fish tank are called shrimps.

Post 29

Prawn is more asian, Shrimp is more american. In japan they serve prawns everywhere, and in America they catches shrimp everywhere. I've had both. they taste the same, and they look the same.

Post 27

Does anyone know if the caloric value is the same for shrimp and prawns? I am on a very strict diet which shrimp are on. However, when I went to the store, they only had Tiger Prawns.

Post 26

I am in taiwan and there is a little confusion that shrimp and prawns taste the same.

Post 25

Here in the UK you generally don't see the word shrimp, only prawns, not sure if we get both. where as, I have never heard a yank say prawns, only shrimp.

Post 23

Nice job! Well laid out site for some seafood education! I first had fresh grilled prawns in Athens, Greece with my fiance. One of my best three meals ever! My fiance calls them "Shrimp on steroids" which is probably a great Readers Digest condensed concept. Again, thank you! -- R&D

Post 22

Thank you for this. i was curious in my ICT lesson. thank you.

Post 21

So a favorite restaurant of mine has "tiger shrimp" on the menu. Large striped creatures on skewers. Are these probably actually prawns?

Post 20

this article is valuable for me. The

difference between prawns and shrimps was a little

bit confusing but now i can differentiate. Thank you.

Post 19

1) Shrimps are dominated in brackish water bodies but prawns are freshwater.

2) The second and third segments are overlapping in shrimp but not overlapping in prawns.

3) The second pair of walking legs are normal size in shrimp but large in prawns

4) Shrimps do not carrying the eggs but the prawns carry the eggs.

Post 18

shrimps dominate brackish water aquaculture, while prawns a fresh water one.

Post 17

Exactly what I needed to see. Thanks great post.

Post 16

thank you so much. it is very useful.

Post 15

can i call shrimp a prawn or vice versa?

Post 14

I appreciate your explanation of the difference between a prawn and a shrimp but you left out any mention of taste. Do they taste differently? I have always heard that prawns are less tasty than shrimp with a coarser grain. Is that true? Or is it due to the size difference? Would similarly sized specimens taste identical?

Post 6

Just received a frozen bag of prawns from my nephew in central North Carolina. He started a prawn pond farm in 2007. They appear to be of the tiger prawns variety and have a very sharp delicious taste.

Post 5

You have mentioned the gill characteristics of prawn and shrimp in reverse order. The gill structure is branching in prawns (hence the name, dendro=“tree”; branchia=“gill”), but is lamellar in shrimp.

Post 4

the important thing is that they taste the same.

Post 3

Thanks so much. I have always wondered what the difference between prawns and shrimp was! Gotta love the web! Cheers! :)

Post 2

thank you very much for sharing the knowledge.

Post 1

Appreciated your descriptions about setting up a mini shrimp aquarium, but please how do i set this up in a tank in a temperate region like Africa?

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