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Shrimp and Prawns: What is the Difference?

Shrimp and Prawns: What is the Difference?

Many people use the term “shrimp” and “prawns” interchangeably. There are some people that believe that prawns are large shrimps, while others may believe that prawns are a completely different shellfish from shrimp and are differentiable by its larger size. In fact, shrimp and prawns are closely related, but there are a few distinguishing features which divide the two. These features are usually obscured in the harvesting and cooking process and you may never know whether you are eating shrimp or prawns.

The similarities can help to highlight the differences between shrimp and prawns. Both are decapod crustaceans, meaning that they have exoskeletons and have10 legs. They can be found in salt and fresh water all over the world, typically swimming in search of food. Both shrimp and prawns tend to stay near the ocean floor. They also have similar flavors, and come in a wide range of sizes from minuscule to quite large.

In terms of biology, however, things get a bit more complex. Even though both are decapod crustaceans, shrimp come from the Pleocyemata suborder while prawns are from the dendrobranchiata suborder. Theses suborders signify different morphological differences between shrimp and prawns. Shrimps have a thin but hard exoskeleton. Their bodies are divided into three segments: head, thorax, and abdomen. The thorax overlaps the other two body segments. They have three pairs of legs in the front. Prawns have the same exoskeleton and body segmentation as shrimp. However, in prawns, the head overlaps the thorax, and the thorax overlaps the abdomen. They also have longer legs than shrimp.
The primary difference between them, however, is the gill structure. Shrimp have branching gills, while prawns have lameller gills with a platelike structure. There are a few other distinguishing features. The front pincers of shrimp are typically the largest, while prawns have bigger second pincers. These differences, though seemingly subtle, indicate different steps along the evolutionary path of both creatures.

One of the main differences between prawns and shrimps and their relatives, the crabs and lobsters, is that prawns and shrimps primarily swim about, as opposed to crabs and lobsters that crawl. Prawns and shrimps also start the first four years of their existence as males and then change into females for their final year of life.

So next time you decide to have shrimp or prawn, you will know what features to look out for in each and that they are truly two different species of shellfish.

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