Prawns vs Shrimp: Main Differences Explained

prawns vs shrimp

Written by Heather Hall

Updated: September 21, 2022

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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

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

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

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

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