Prawns vs Shrimp: Main Differences Explained

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: September 21, 2022
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Key Points

  • Prawns and shrimp, usually considered the same animals, are actually entirely different.
  • Key differences in these animals include location/habitat, anatomical features, taxonomy, and size.
  • Similarities between prawns and shrimp do exist, such as their diets and nutritional values.

Have you heard of prawns and believed they were just large shrimp? Contrary to popular belief, although the size difference is generally true, there are other features that are best for telling the two shellfish apart. They are not simply different sizes of the same creature.

It certainly isn’t enough knowing that large shrimp are called prawns and some shrimp have a common name with the word “prawn” in it, and vice-versa. Although they’re clearly similar enough to be confused for one another, just exactly how close in resemblance are they? Let’s explore their similarities and differences below!

Comparing Prawns vs Shrimp

ShrimpPrawns
Size0.79-3in L although some measure 9.8in>3in L, although shrimp larger than 3in are also called prawns or jumbo shrimp
HabitatMost species live in cold, saltwaterMost species live in warm, fresh water
BodyCurved, short rostrum, wider than deep, 1 overlapping segment, front pincers are largestStraight, longer rostrum, deeper than wide, overlapping segments, 2nd pair of pincers are largest
TaxonomySuborder Pleocyemata contains shrimp along with crabs, lobsters, and crawfishPrawn suborder Dendobranchiata
DietOmnivorous, even cannibalistic; scavengingOmnivorous, even cannibalistic; scavenging
MarketCommercially, 20 species of shrimp are farmed out of the thousands that exist with a 75/25 market split between Asia and Latin AmericaFreshwater types are the most popular and especially farming the genus Macrobrachium. Two species out of 300 make up 70% while another ten species make up the rest for human consumption, and commercially it is an 80/20 split between Asia and South America
CuisineCommon in North AmericaCommon in the UK and everywhere else
FlavorFirm, mild, buttery, rich meat with a sweet-salty ocean flavorSometimes sweeter, but generally very similar and interchangeable in any recipe and any cooking method, just with more meat
NutritionLow in fat (85 calories), high in protein (18g), high in omega-3 fatty acids, provide 50% of the daily value of selenium (85g), and excellent sources of iron, phosphorus and vitamin B12Very similar in nutritional value for every 3-ounce serving

The 5 Key Differences Between Prawns vs Shrimp

Prawns vs Shrimp: Size

Although the words refer to two different creatures, these similar shellfish are more distinguished by physical features than size. Generally, however, shrimp are 2 cm (0.79 in) long, with some measuring more than 25 cm (9.8 in). The larger ones are called prawns.

Prawns vs Shrimp: Habitat

Shrimp often live in marine (saltwater) oceans, rivers, and lakes, although about a quarter (23 percent) of all species live in freshwater. Most prawns live in fresh water and tend to live in warmer waters.

Prawns vs Shrimp: Body

Both shellfish have similar bodies in that they are crustaceans with 10 legs. However, that’s where their similarities end. Shrimp are wider than they are deep, with a short rostrum, and their bodies are curved due to a segment overlapping the abdomen and head to allow them to bend at an acute angle. Shrimp have claws on only the front two pairs of legs and plate-like gills, and their front pincers are the largest.

Prawns are deeper than they are wide and have a longer rostrum, with claws on three pairs of legs, longer legs, and branching gills, and their second pair of pincers are the largest.

Prawns vs Shrimp: Taxonomy

Both shellfish are similar in that they belong to the Decapod order. Over 8,000 species of crustaceans (crabs, lobster, shrimp, prawns, crawfish, etc.) are encapsulated under this order. While these animals are all seemingly different, their key similarity is right in the name: “10 legs.” Five pairs of legs line the thoraxes of these animals, giving them this categorical name.

While prawns and shrimp share an order, they are branches into distinguishing suborders. Shrimp belong to Pleocyemata (home also to crabs, lobsters, and crawfish) while the suborder Dendobranchiata contains only prawns.

Prawns vs Shrimp: Cuisine

Both are common in Asia. However, shrimp are more common in North America and prawns are more common in the UK and everywhere else.

Summary: Prawns vs Shrimp

ShrimpsPrawns
TaxonomyOrder: Decapod
Suborder: Pleocyemata
Order: Decapod
Suborder: Dendobranchiata
HabitatCold, saltwaterWarm, freshwater
Size2 cm – 3 in>3 in
CuisineCommon in North America, AsiaCommon in the UK, Asia, elsewhere
BodyWide > deep
Short rostrum
Acute angle
Deep > wide
Long rostrum

Up Next…

Shrimp are often thought to classify way more shellfish than they actually do. Check out the differences in some often confused shrimp look-alikes:

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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest and am surrounded by nature. When I go for my daily runs I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I am owned by two dogs who take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the difference between a shrimp and a prawn?

They are two different kinds of shellfish which live in different habitats, have different physical features, and are members of different suborders. The words are sometimes used interchangeably with “shrimp” often meaning a true shrimp or a small prawn and “prawn” meaning a large shrimp or small prawn.

Which is more expensive prawn or shrimp?

The former is generally more expensive due to their size and have more meat, but some jumbo shrimp can cost just as much.

Are jumbo shrimp prawns?

They are often labeled such commercially but are not true prawns.

Why are prawns not good for you?

Scientists frequently use them to observe environmental pollution, and consumers can ingest toxins by eating contaminated ones.

What are large shrimps or prawns called?

Large shrimp are called prawns or jumbo shrimp and large prawns are called jumbo prawns. Pink shrimp, Aesop shrimp or Aesop prawns are shrimp (species Pandalus montagui). Tiger shrimp or tiger prawns are prawns (Penaeus monodon). Spot prawns are shrimp (Pandalus montagui). Also, in the UK “shrimp” refers to small prawns, and in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, “prawns” can be both true prawns and large shrimp. In the United States, “prawns” mean large or freshwater shrimp, and “shrimp” means freshwater ones, but it is not uncommon to see normal-sized prawns called shrimp and small prawns called prawns. Differences in the terms also depend on regional cuisines, since shrimp are most common in North America, while prawns are more common in the UK and elsewhere.

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