What is the Difference Between Shrimp and Prawns?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Shrimp are classified as Pleocyemata, and prawns are classified in the suborder Dendobranchiata.
Shrimp are classified as Pleocyemata, and prawns are classified in the suborder Dendobranchiata.

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.

Shrimp and prawns may be used interchangeably in most dishes.
Shrimp and prawns may be used interchangeably in most dishes.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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I was a prawn trawler fisherman on the east coast of Australia traveling from as far south as Eden in southern NSW to as far north as the Torres Strait. We caught a variety of prawns including School Prawns from small to very large, as large as a medium size King Prawn also King Prawns up to 14 inches long in very deep water off Moreton Island in Queensland.

We also targeted Tiger Prawns and Banana Prawns in QLD waters but also caught red spot King Prawns off Mackay QLD.

Being a NSW boat and having a prawn cooker aboard (which most of the North QLD boats didn't have) opened up a fresh cooked market for us at pubs and clubs because for the last few days of a trip we would keep and cook Endeavouri Prawns and sell them because back then there was no export market for Endeavouris.

We were trawling once off Cape Bowling Green near Townsville and trawled up prawns that we had only seen occasionally which were called Leader Prawns, the largest of which we caught were around 16 inches long, but we saw a specimen on display in a Yeppoon Kiosk which measured 21 inches long and apparently this prawn is cross bred with a tiger prawn to produce the Black Tiger Prawn, which is a hybrid that is grown in aquaculture farms because of their quick growth rate and resistance to disease.

Australian prawn farms are banned from using antibiotics in the pellet feed that are given to the prawns, yet at the same time, Australia imports farmed prawns that are grown in the Mekong Delta and the only way to keep the prawns alive in the putrid water is to include antibiotics in the pellets. A few years back, Canada conducted a random core sample test for antibiotics on a batch of prawns (because Canada has a ban on importing products that are meant for human consumption that have been treated with Antibiotics). They drill a small hole into a carton and test what comes out, and the sample returned a positive test. When they traced back the shipping records (and I'm not going to name countries) but the exporter had fraudulently packed the prawns into cartons with the incorrect “Product Of X country” labels on them in an attempt to get around the ban.

Many doctors believe that the practice of treating food products with antibiotics is a major contributing factor in the growing resistance of antibiotics used to treat humans.

It's my belief that if food products are treated with antibiotics, then it should be clearly shown on the label of the product.


"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?


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


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


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?


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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


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


this article is valuable for me. The

difference between prawns and shrimps was a little

bit confusing but now i can differentiate. Thank you.


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.


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


Exactly what I needed to see. Thanks great post.


thank you so much. it is very useful.


can i call shrimp a prawn or vice versa?


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?


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.


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.


the important thing is that they taste the same.


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


thank you very much for sharing the knowledge.


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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