Difference between a Shrimp and a Prawn

Updated on March 8, 2017

Some people say a prawn and a shrimp are exactly the same, while others say they are different. Another group of people says the two terms are interchangeable and that it depends on where you are in the world. With all those ideas, it’s difficult to say which one is right and which one isn’t, especially when you are not a crustacean expert. This article will discuss the difference between a shrimp and a prawn.

Descriptions

Shrimp

A shrimp is a common term for any small decapod crustacean. However, it usually covers the species that belong to the family Caridea.

Shrimp have two claw-like legs and a short rostrum. They also have branching gills, and if you look closely, the second abdominal plate overlaps the ones before and after it. They bear their eggs under their tails.

Moreover, the term “shrimp” is commonly used in America for any decapod crustacean, including the ones that belong to other families and suborders.

On the other hand, the word prawn is a generic term for large decapod crustaceans that belong to the suborder Dendrobranchiata.

Prawns have three claw-like legs and a long rostrum. They also have lamellar gills (made up of tiny plates). Each of their body plates overlaps the next plate, giving it a “roof tile” look. Prawns release their eggs into the water.

Additionally, the term “prawn” is commonly used in the Commonwealth countries and Europe, regardless of the size of the decapod crustacean.

Shrimp vs Prawn

What, then, is the difference between a shrimp and a prawn?

Shrimp are decapod crustaceans that belong to the family Caridea while prawns belong to the suborder Dendrobranchiata.

Shrimp have two pairs of claw-like legs, a short rostrum and branching gills. Their second abdominal plate overlaps the ones before and after it. They incubate their eggs beneath their tails. On the other hand, prawns have three pairs of claw-like legs, a long rostrum, lamellar gills, and body plates that look like overlapping roof shingles. Prawns release their eggs into the water.

In some countries though, the term “shrimp” is used when talking about small decapod crustaceans without taking into consideration the other descriptions, while “prawn” is used when referring to the larger ones.

Additionally, the term “prawn” is very rarely used in America and the term “shrimp” is almost never used in Europe. So, the two terms may mean the same thing depending on where you are in the world. If you’re an American vacationing in London and you order some “shrimp,” you will get some prawns.

Comparison Chart

ShrimpPrawn
Covers the ones that belong to the family CarideaUsually covers the species that belong to the suborder Dendrobranchiata.
Has two pairs of claw-like legsHas three pairs of claw-like legs
Has branching gillsHas lamellar gills
Its second abdominal plate overlaps the ones before and after itIts body plates look like roof tiles
Incubates its eggs under its tailReleases its eggs to the water
In some countries, “shrimp” means any small decapod crustaceanIn some countries, “prawn” is used when talking about large decapod crustaceans
The term “shrimp” is commonly used in AmericaThe term “prawn” is commonly used in the Commonwealth countries and Europe