Prawn vs Crawfish: The Key Differences

Written by Colby Maxwell
Published: August 4, 2022
© rugco/
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Prawns and crawfish are similar creatures, although their names aren’t exactly “scientific” and more colloquial. Despite these naming confusions, the creatures are somewhat related and are classified as crustaceans. Today, we will explore the differences between a prawn and a crawfish to see what makes them unique. Let’s discover prawn vs crawfish and why they are special.

Comparing a prawn and a crawfish

Prawns and crawfish differ in appearance, habitat, and diet.
SizeOften used to reference “extra large” shrimp-like creatures. 3-6 inches long.2-4 inches long.
AppearanceUsually referencing a shrimp-like creature. Crustacean with 10 legs.Miniature lobster.
HabitatAquatic. It can be fresh or saltwater dwelling, depending on the species.Aquatic. Primarily freshwater and brackish.
DietPlant material, organic matter, and micro-organisms.Fish, shrimp, water plants, worms, insects, snails, and plankton.
Human usePrawns are often marketed as extra-large shrimp.Regularly used in Cajun cuisine. Sometimes kept as pets.

The key differences between a prawn and a crawfish

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

The usage of the term “prawn” is a bit confusing since it isn’t actually a scientific term. Even more, the word means various things in different places. In North America, a prawn is just a large shrimp, despite large species of shrimp already having their own name. In the UK, a prawn is any shrimp-like creature. For the purposes of this article, we will be referencing prawns as shrimp-like creatures, although there is variability even within shrimp since shrimp isn’t a scientific term either.

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Crawfish are small crustaceans that closely resemble a miniature lobster. They almost always live in freshwater and can be found in brooks, streams, ponds, and more. Crawfish are an essential resource in the southeastern United States, especially in Cajun cuisine. Additionally, crawfish go by a plethora of names, including crawfish, craydids, crawdaddies, crawdads, freshwater lobsters, mountain lobsters, rock lobsters, mudbugs, baybugs, or yabbies.

Let’s explore these differences, plus a few more, in detail below.

Prawn vs Crawfish: Size

Prawn vs Crawfish
Prawns are often referred to as large shrimp and can be up to a foot long.


In the United States, a prawn is a large shrimp. The largest prawns that most people eat in the United States are the tiger prawn, the California spot prawn, and the eastern king prawn. Most species of shrimp are only a few inches long, while the largest can reach upwards of a foot long.

Crawfish are usually 2-4 inches long.

Prawn vs Crawfish: Appearance

Prawn vs Crawfish
Crawfish look like mini lobsters.


Prawns are shrimp-like in appearance. They have an exoskeleton and ten legs.

Crawfish look just like miniature lobsters. They even have large claws and a segmented tail.

Prawn vs Crawfish: Habitat

Prawn vs Crawfish
Both prawns and crawfish live in water, although prawns mostly live in saltwater, while crawfish live in freshwater.


The vast majority of shrimp (and subsequently prawns) are saltwater-dwelling. Still, some shrimp, like the bigclaw river shrimp, live in freshwater. Most of the shrimp and prawns that humans consume, however, are saltwater-dwelling.

Crawfish are almost totally freshwater dwelling, although some can tolerate brackish water. They can be found in almost any body of water, including streams, ponds, lakes, and more.

Prawn vs Crawfish: Diet

Prawn vs Crawfish
Both prawns and crawfish are scavengers, but crawfish are generally more predatory.


Prawns and shrimp are known to eat plant material, organic matter, and micro-organisms.

Crawfish will eat almost anything, including fish, shrimp, water plants, worms, insects, snails, and plankton. They often use their large claws to catch invertebrates and small fish as they pass by.

Prawn vs Crawfish: Human use

Prawn vs Crawfish
Prawns and crawfish are commonly eaten across the world.


Shrimp and prawns are among the most commonly eaten crustaceans in the entire world in every culture. In many places, entire people groups are economically dependent on shrimp and prawn fishing. Certain varieties of shrimp are kept as pets in fish tanks.

Crawfish live all over the world, but they are of special cultural importance in the American southeast. Louisiana produces 100 million pounds of crawfish a year. Additionally, crawfish are an essential element of Cajun cuisine.

The Featured Image

Red Swamp Crayfish - Pincers Spread
A male uses their claws by pinching or jabbing their rival.
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About the Author

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he isn't distracted by his backyard birdfeeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him about what he's recently learned. There's a whole world to learn about and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much as he can about it!

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