Prawn vs. Shrimp: What’s the Difference?

When dining on seafood, the terms “prawn” and “shrimp” are frequently used interchangeably, and many struggle to differentiate between the two. Technically, prawns and shrimp are distinct creatures with a few key physical differences. Looking at their anatomy, prawns have second pincers larger than the front ones, while shrimp’s front pincers are the largest. Each belongs to different suborders of crustaceans: prawns come from the Dendrobranchiata, and shrimp from Pleocyemata, but this scientific distinction might not simplify things for the average consumer.

Prawn vs. Shrimp: Key Takeaways

  • Prawns and shrimp are different species with distinct physical features.
  • Prawns primarily live in freshwater, while shrimp are mostly found in saltwater.
  • Physical differences include the size and segmentation of claws and the overlapping of their body segments.

Prawn vs. Shrimp: Overview

Understanding Prawn

Prawns are typically larger and have a branching gill structure. Their bodies are divided into three main segments: the head, thorax, and abdomen. They also feature longer legs. Prawns belong to the suborder Dendrobranchiata and are most commonly found in fresh and brackish waters.

Understanding Shrimp

Shrimp are generally smaller with a lamellar gill structure. Like prawns, their bodies are segmented, but the second segment overlaps the first and third, giving them a distinct bend in their body structure. They possess shorter legs compared to prawns. Shrimp belong to the suborder Pleocyemata and are abundant in both fresh and saltwater environments.

Prawn vs. Shrimp: Physical Differences

We find it interesting to look at prawns and shrimp side by side because they seem so similar but have distinct physical characteristics. Let’s break down some of these differences in a simple table.

Feature Prawn Shrimp
Segment Structure Overlapping like tiles (the second segment overlaps the first and third) Segmented with each segment overlapping the one behind it
Body Shape Straighter due to the segment structure Often curves at the abdomen
Leg Structure Typically have longer legs with claws on three pairs Usually have shorter legs with claws on two pairs of legs
Gill Structure Branching gills (lamellar) Plate-like gills (lamellate)
Size Often larger compared to shrimp of the same region Generally smaller than prawns

Prawn vs. Shrimp: Habitat and Behavioral Differences

Prawns are more often associated with freshwater habitats, although some species inhabit saline waters too. Our prawn pals are primarily benthic creatures, meaning they dwell on the bottom of their environment, be it the sea, lakes, or rivers.

In contrast, shrimp are typically found in saltwater environments. They have adapted to a range of habitats, from the deep sea to coastal estuaries. Our little shrimp friends are quite versatile—they can live near the seafloor or actively swim in the water column.

Behaviorally, both shrimp and prawns engage in a scavenging lifestyle, dining on plant and animal debris. However, prawns are also known for their nocturnal habits—they are mostly active at night, foraging for food under the cover of darkness.

Here’s a quick comparison:

Trait Prawn Shrimp
Habitat Generally freshwater, bottom dwellers Mostly saltwater, diverse zones
Activity Mainly nocturnal, benthic activity Active swimmers, with various behaviors

Prawn vs. Shrimp Examples in Sentences

Example Sentences of Prawn

  1. We decided to make a garlic butter sauce to go with our jumbo prawns last night, and they were incredibly succulent.
  2. I prefer using fresh prawns in our paella to bring out that distinct, sweet flavor they are known for.
  3. On our trip to the coast, we enjoyed a feast of prawns, caught straight from the nearby river, seasoned simply with lemon and herbs.
  4. Could you please peel the prawns before we add them to our salad?
  5. Our special of the day includes a generous portion of tiger prawns grilled to perfection with a side of spicy mayo.

Example Sentences of Shrimp

  1. Yesterday, we tossed some shrimp into our pasta dish for a quick seafood dinner.
  2. Our family loves it when we make a classic shrimp cocktail as an appetizer during our get-togethers.
  3. I noticed that the shrimp are smaller than the prawns, but they still have a remarkable flavor that enhances our stir-fry.
  4. Can you please de-vein these shrimp before we skewer and barbeque them?
  5. We sampled some amazing shrimp tacos at the new seafood restaurant, each bite was bursting with fresh, zesty flavors.

Related Confused Words

Prawn vs. Lobster

Lobsters and prawns are both decapods, but lobsters sport a distinct, large pair of claws which prawns lack. Prawns are typically found in both fresh and saltwater, whereas lobsters dwell along the ocean floor.

Prawn vs. Crayfish

Crayfish, resembling small lobsters, are freshwater creatures with a pair of claws. Prawns, on the other hand, can be found in both freshwater and saltwater and their body shape is different from that of crayfish, with prawns having a straighter body.

Prawn vs. Langoustine

Langoustines are often called Norway lobsters and look similar to small, slender lobsters. Prawns have a more compressed body and are not as closely related to langoustines as the visual similarities might suggest.

Shrimp vs. Scampi

In culinary terms, “scampi” is used to refer to a dish made with large shrimp or langoustines. However, the term scampi can also refer to the Norway lobster, which is different from shrimp in both appearance and habitat.

Shrimp vs. Krill

Krill are tiny, ocean-dwelling crustaceans that serve as a vital part of the marine food chain. Shrimp are larger than krill and are widely consumed by humans, whereas krill are typically eaten by whales and other marine animals.

Shrimp vs. Lobster

Although shrimp and lobsters share the same order of crustaceans, lobsters are generally much larger, possess a heavier exoskeleton, and distinct large claws, which are not features of shrimp. Shrimp tend to be more widespread in various aquatic environments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are  prawn and shrimp different species, and if so, how?

Yes, shrimp and prawn are different species. Biologically, shrimp belong to the sub-order Pleocyemata, while prawns are classified under the sub-order Dendrobranchiata. Their body structure varies; prawns have a straight body with overlapping segments, while shrimp have more distinct curve due to a flexible shell structure.

Can you list various types of prawns and shrimp commonly found in the market?

Common types of shrimp in the market include white shrimp, brown shrimp, and pink shrimp. For prawns, popular varieties are tiger prawns, king prawns, and spot prawns. Each type offers different flavors, textures, and culinary uses.