Last updated: August 4, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Syrist / Creative Commons / Original

Closely related to crabs and lobsters!

Prawn Scientific Classification

Scientific Name

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Prawn Conservation Status

Prawn Locations

Prawn Locations

Prawn Facts

Main Prey
Fish, Insects, Plankton
Optimum pH Level
6.5 - 9.0
Rocky, coastal waters
Average Litter Size
Favorite Food
Fresh, Brackish, Salt
Common Name
Closely related to crabs and lobsters!

Prawn Physical Characteristics

  • Grey
  • Black
  • White
  • Pink
Skin Type
2 - 4 years

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The Southern hemisphere is home to prawns, a crustaceous animal that is in some ways like shrimp. This slightly different fish has a gill structure different than the structure of a shrimp’s body. Prawns are in the same animal family as lobsters and crabs. They live in calm waters, with certain species of them found in the Northern hemisphere.

4 Top Prawn Facts

  • Prawn is the name for acquatic crustaceans of a small size
  • There are 13 types of prawns
  • Female prawns release eggs in the hundreds of thousands
  • Prawns can change color based on where they are

Prawn Scientific Name

Though Prawn is the common name for this animal similar to shrimp, its scientific name is Dendrobranchiata and it is part of the crustacea class. It is typically 1 to 1.5 centimeters long. In total, there are 200 subspecies of prawns. Most of them live their lives in the freshwater that helps them thrive.

One of the first subspecies of prawns discovered by scientists was the giant river prawn. The scientific name of this subspecies is Machrobachium rosenbergii. It lives in subtropical and tropical water. Machrobachium rosenbergii are found throughout the Indo Pacific Region. Though the majority of these subspecies are found in freshwater, some live in the mouths of rivers where the water is salty.

The Palaemon prawn lives in the waters of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh in ponds, rivers, and streams.

The word prawn dates back to 15th century England. At that time, the animal was referred to as prane, prayne, or praine. Today, the word prawn is most often heard in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Prawn Appearance & Behavior

Prawns are commonly black, pink, white or grey. When a Palaemon prawn is fully grown it is generally between six and eight inches long, or the size of a GI Joe action figure. Upon being caught, the fish is a pale blue. It has a cylindrical and elongated body. From one side to the other, the prawn’s body is compressed a little bit.

A Palaemon prawn has two parts to their bodies. One part is anterior and one is posterior. Its cephalothorax is un-jointed. This means that the prawn has six pairs of appendages, which is any part of the body that is attached to its main part. In a prawn, those parts have no joints, like what humans have in their knees to help them bend.

The posterior of a Palaemon prawn has an abdomen that is jointed, the exact opposite of its anterior. The abdomen sticks out over the rest of the prawn’s body. A prawn’s abdomen has six different segments. All six segments have their own set of appendages. The appendages are located on the ventral surface. This is the lower part of the prawn’s body. On a human being, it would be where the liver is located.

One part of the abdomen is on the inside of the prawn’s body and one is on the outside. On the outside is a telson. The telson is located on the prawn’s tail. At the other end of the abdomen is the cephalothorax. This is where the prawn’s head meets its thorax. The thorax is surrounded by the abdomen and the neck. At the bottom of the prawn’s body, it has thirteen pairs of appendages.

In 2014 fishermen off the coast of Florida found a record breaking 18 inch long prawn, making it the largest prawn ever caught and recorded.

It is common to find prawns by themselves. King Prawns avoid exposure to light because they are sensitive to it. However, Tiger Prawns are active all the time. When it comes to the Freshwater Prawns, they are the happiest living in shallow water with access to mud.

Under the right circumstances, a prawn can change colors. They can do this because of pigment in their skin, located directly under their shell. The cells in their skin allow them to become blue, yellow, red, yellow-white, and sepia-brown. The color they turn is determined by how many of that color’s cells are in their bodies. The cells give school prawns pale spots, while deepwater prawns become bright red or even scarlet.

Deepwater prawns turn bright red because of where they are in the water. Color can’t be seen, so they appear black. This makes it harder for predators to spot them.

Prawn’s Habitat

Northern regions are the homes of banana, brown tiger, and western king prawns. They are larger in these regions than in other parts of the world and choose to live in coastal waters near the shore. The northern areas of Australia are home to banana and tiger prawns. Banana prawns are often found in Exmouth, which is a town in England. Tiger Prawns live in Shark Bay. Along Western Australia’s coast, it is easy to find King Prawns. They can also be found in the country’s Swan River.

Prawn Diet – What Do They Eat?

As an omnivorous animal, prawns commonly eat carrion and plankton, which are microorganisms. They also eat the smallest shellfish, worms and any organic matter that is decayed.

When a prawn is first born they eat small pieces of seaweed and marine plants. When they are about one year old, they can expand their diet. Adult prawns are scavengers who will what they can find. Their diet often includes dead fish, sand, crabs, and mud. Unlike other animals in the sea, prawns have no problem eating each other. They most commonly do this if they can’t find other sources of food.

Prawns that live in cold water avoid eating sand or mud. This means that Tiger and King Prawns have veins that look different from their cold-water counterparts. Since cold water prawns don’t eat sand or mud and Tiger & King Prawns do, the cold water prawns have clear veins in their bodies.

Predators & Threats

Both young prawns and adult prawns are the victims of predators. Though they can be victims at any time, they are the most vulnerable when they are in the larval period of their development. At that time they are often killed by bottom-dwelling fish such as squid and cuttlefish.

Prawn Reproduction, Babies And Life Span

A grown female prawn is larger than a grown male prawn. It is easy to tell if a prawn is male or female. A male prawn has an organ called a pestama between their legs. A female prawn has a thelycum, which is what lets them mate with male prawns.

Adult female prawns have visible ovaries. They are located in her head and her tail. Before ovaries mature they are pale yellow or olive. After their ovaries mature they become an orange-brown color. In order for a pair of prawns to reproduce, the male’s shell must be hard and the female’s shell must be soft.

A prawn’s eggs are fertilized while still inside a female body. It is believed that spawning takes place right after the eggs have been fertilized. During the mating season, female prawns can get pregnant multiple times. Different sized and species of females are capable of carrying a different number of eggs. How frequently prawns spawn has to do with where they live. In Queensland, Australia, easter King Pawns can spawn at any time of the year. King Prawns living anywhere else will not spawn during the winter months.

The life cycle of the prawn varies. There are three types of life cycles they follow. Those types are Estuarine, Marine, and Mixed. In sea water, the Estuarine life cycle is completed. One subspecies that lives this life cycle is the greasyback prawn. In ocean waters, royal red prawns live the marine life cycle.

The mixed life cycle is different because it is the life cycle that baby prawns follow. During this life cycle, female prawns shed their fertilized eggs at the bottom of the ocean. The eggs remain on the ocean floor until the babies are ready to be born. Babies live this cycle until they become adults. The mixed life cycle takes place over a period of two to three weeks.

Overall, a prawn’s life cycle is a brief one. School prawns live an average of one year. Eastern King and other larger prawns can live to be two years old. In some cases, they may even live for three years.

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Prawn FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What Are Prawns And What Is the Difference Between A Prawn And A Shrimp?

Many people are confused about the differences between prawns and shrimps. Though in some parts of the word, people consider them to be the same animal, they are not. The things they have in common include the fact that they both have an exoskeleton and 10 legs. They also look similar and both live close to the floor of the ocean.

Both the pawn and the shrimp live in freshwater and saltwater. However, prawns mainly stick to freshwater. Shrimp mainly stick to saltwater. Other differences include the fact that their gills are shaped differently. While the body of a shrimp is slightly curled, the body of a prawn is completely straight.

It is easy to tell the difference between a shrimp and a prawn by looking at their legs. A shrimp’s front legs are the largest they have. The second pair of legs on a prawn is its biggest. Prawns have three pairs of legs with claws on them. Another difference is that while prawns let their fertilized eggs grow in the water, shrimp carry their eggs under their bodies until the babies are born.

Are Prawns herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Prawns are Omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals.

What Kingdom do Prawns belong to?

Prawns belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do Prawns belong to?

Prawns belong to the phylum Arthropoda.

What family do Prawns belong to?

Prawns belong to the family Dendrobranchiata.

What order do Prawns belong to?

Prawns belong to the order Decapoda.

What type of covering do Prawns have?

Prawns are covered in Shells.

In what type of habitat do Prawns live?

Prawns live in rocky, coastal waters.

What do Prawns eat?

Prawns eat fish, insects, and plankton.

What are some predators of Prawns?

Predators of Prawns include humans, fish, and squid.

What is the average litter size for a Prawn?

The average litter size for a Prawn is 100.

What is an interesting fact about Prawns?

Prawns are closely related to crabs and lobsters!

What is the scientific name for the Prawn?

The scientific name for the Prawn is Dendrobranchiata.

What is the lifespan of a Prawn?

Prawns can live for 2 to 4 years.

What is the optimal pH for a Prawn?

The optimal pH for a Prawn is between 6.5 and 9.0.

What are the differences between a prawn and a crawfish?

The key differences between a prawn and a crawfish are appearance, habitat, and diet.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
  3. David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals

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