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The giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon) is an important species for aquaculture. Penaeus monodon.jpg
The giant tiger prawn ( Penaeus monodon ) is an important species for aquaculture.

Prawn is a common name for small aquatic crustaceans with an exoskeleton and ten legs (which is a member of the order decapoda), some of which can be eaten. [1]


The term prawn [2] is used particularly in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Commonwealth nations, for large swimming crustaceans or shrimp, especially those with commercial significance in the fishing industry. Shrimp that are present in this category often belong to the suborder Dendrobranchiata. In North America, the term is used less frequently, typically for freshwater shrimp. The terms shrimp and prawn themselves lack scientific standing. Over the years, the way shrimp and prawn are used has changed, and these days, the terms are almost interchangeable.

Shrimp versus prawn

The terms shrimp and prawn are common names, not scientific names. They are vernacular or colloquial terms which lack the formal definition of scientific terms. They are not taxa, but are terms of convenience with little circumscriptional significance. There is no reason to avoid using the terms shrimp or prawn when convenient, but it is important not to confuse them with the names or relationships of actual taxa. [2]

According to the crustacean taxonomist Tin-Yam Chan, "The terms shrimp and prawn have no definite reference to any known taxonomic groups. Although the term shrimp is sometimes applied to smaller species, while prawn is more often used for larger forms, there is no clear distinction between both terms and their usage is often confused or even reverse in different countries or regions." [3] Writing in 1980, L. B. Holthuis noted that the terms prawn and shrimp were used inconsistently "even within a single region", generalising that larger species fished commercially were generally called shrimp in the United States, and prawns in other English-speaking countries, although not without exceptions. [4]

A bigclaw river shrimp. Prawns are sometimes said to be large shrimp or alternatively freshwater shrimp, but this large, freshwater creature is a caridean shrimp, and is rarely referred to as a prawn. Macrobrachium carcinus.jpg
A bigclaw river shrimp. Prawns are sometimes said to be large shrimp or alternatively freshwater shrimp, but this large, freshwater creature is a caridean shrimp, and is rarely referred to as a prawn.

A lot of confusion surrounds the scope of the term shrimp. Part of the confusion originates with the association of smallness. That creates problems with shrimp-like species that are not small. The expression "jumbo shrimp" can be viewed as an oxymoron, a problem that doesn't exist with the commercial designation "jumbo prawns". [5]

The term shrimp originated around the 14th century with the Middle English shrimpe, akin to the Middle Low German schrempen, and meaning to contract or wrinkle; and the Old Norse skorpna, meaning to shrivel up, or skreppa, meaning a thin person. [6] [7] It is not clear where the term prawn originated, but early forms of the word surfaced in England in the early 15th century as prayne, praine and prane. [8] [9] [10] According to the linguist Anatoly Liberman it is unclear how shrimp, in English, came to be associated with small. "No Germanic language associates the shrimp with its size... The same holds for Romance... it remains unclear in what circumstances the name was applied to the crustacean." [11]

Taxonomic studies in Europe on shrimp and prawns were shaped by the common shrimp and the common prawn, both found in huge numbers along the European coastlines. The common shrimp, Crangon crangon was categorised in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus, and the common prawn was categorised in 1777 by Thomas Pennant. The common shrimp is a small burrowing species aligned with the notion of a shrimp as being something small, whereas the common prawn is much larger. The terms true shrimp or true prawn are sometimes used to mean what a particular person thinks is a shrimp or prawn. [2] This varies with the person using the terms. But such terms are not normally used in the scientific literature, because the terms shrimp and prawn themselves lack scientific standing. Over the years the way shrimp and prawn are used has changed, and nowadays the terms are almost interchangeable. Although from time to time some biologists declare that certain common names should be confined to specific taxa, the popular use of these names seems to continue unchanged. [2] [12]

Regional distinctions

The terms shrimp and prawn originated in Britain. In the use of common names for species, shrimp is applied to smaller species, particularly species that are dorsoventrally depressed (wider than deep) with a shorter rostrum. It is the only term used for species in the family Crangonidae, such as the common shrimp or brown shrimp, Crangon crangon . Prawn is never applied to very small species. It is applied to most of the larger forms, particularly species that are laterally compressed (deeper than wide) and have a long rostrum. However, the terms are not used consistently. For example, some authors refer to Pandalus montagui as an Aesop shrimp while others refer to it as an Aesop prawn. [2] [4]

Commonwealth countries, and Ireland, tend to follow British usage. Some exceptions occur in Australia where some authors refer to small species of Palaemonidae as prawns and call Alpheidae pistol shrimp. Other Australian authors have given the name banded coral shrimp to the prawn-like Stenopus hispidus and listed "the Processidae and Atyidae as shrimps, the Hippolytidae, Alpheidae, Pandalidae and Campylonotoidea as prawns". [4] New Zealand broadly follows British usage. A rule of thumb given by some New Zealand authors states: "In common usage, shrimp are small, some three inches or less in length, taken for food by netting, usually from shallow water. Prawn are larger, up to twelve inches long, taken by trapping and trawling." [13] South Africa and the former British colonies in Asia also seem to generally follow British usage. [4]

Shrimp is the more general term throughout North America, particularly in the United States, [4] where it is the general term. In Canada, the terms are often used interchangeably as in New Zealand (larger species are 'prawn' and smaller are often 'shrimp.') but there are regional variations. In Western provinces, prawn is almost exclusively the general term. The term prawn is less commonly used in the United States, being applied mainly to larger shrimp and those living in fresh water. [14]

Related Research Articles

Caridea Infraorder of shrimp

The Caridea, commonly known as caridean shrimp, are an infraorder of shrimp within the order Decapoda. They are found widely around the world in both fresh and salt water.


Natantia is an obsolete taxon of decapod crustaceans, comprising those families that move predominantly by swimming – the shrimp, prawns (Dendrobranchiata) and boxer shrimp. The remaining Decapoda were placed in the Reptantia, and consisted of crabs, lobsters and other large animals that move chiefly by walking along the bottom. The division between Natantia and Reptantia was replaced in 1963, when Martin Burkenroad erected the suborder Pleocyemata for those animals that brood their eggs on the pleopods, leaving Dendrobranchiata for the prawns. Under this system, Natantia is a paraphyletic group. Burkenroad's primary division of Decapoda into Dendrobranchiata and Pleocyemata has since been corroborated by molecular analyses.

Stenopodidea infraorder of crustaceans

The Stenopodidea is a small group of decapod crustaceans. Often confused with shrimp or prawns, they are neither, but belong in a group closer to the reptant decapods, such as lobsters and crabs. They may be easily recognised by their third pereiopod, which is greatly enlarged. In the lobsters and crabs, it is the first pereiopod that is much bigger than the others. There are 71 extant species currently recognised, divided into 12 genera. Three fossil species are also recognised, each belonging to a separate genus. The earliest fossil assigned to the Stenopodidea is Devonostenopus pennsylvaniensis from the Devonian. Until D. pennsylvaniensis was discovered, the oldest known member of the group was Jilinicaris chinensis from the Late Cretaceous.

Slipper lobster family of crustaceans

Slipper lobsters are a family (Scyllaridae) of about 90 species of achelate crustaceans, in the Decapoda Reptantia, found in all warm oceans and seas. They are not true lobsters, but are more closely related to spiny lobsters and furry lobsters. Slipper lobsters are instantly recognisable by their enlarged antennae, which project forward from the head as wide plates. All the species of slipper lobsters are edible, and some, such as the Moreton Bay bug and the Balmain bug are of commercial importance.

Astacidea Taxon of crustaceans

The Astacidea are a group of decapod crustaceans including lobsters, crayfish, and their close relatives.

Eucarida superorder of crustaceans

Eucarida is a superorder of the Malacostraca, a class of the crustacean subphylum, comprising the decapods, krill, Amphionides and Angustidontida. They are characterised by having the carapace fused to all thoracic segments, and by the possession of stalked eyes.

Shrimp fishery

The shrimp fishery is a major global industry, with more than 3.4 million tons caught per year, chiefly in Asia. Rates of bycatch are unusually high for shrimp fishing, with the capture of sea turtles being especially contentious.

<i>Penaeus monodon</i> species of crustacean

Penaeus monodon, commonly known as the giant tiger prawn or Asian tiger shrimp, is a marine crustacean that is widely reared for food.

<i>Ibacus peronii</i> species of crustacean

Ibacus peronii, the Balmain bug or butterfly fan lobster, is a species of slipper lobster. It lives in shallow waters around Australia and is the subject of small-scale fishery. It is a flattened, reddish brown animal, up to 23 cm (9 in) long and 14 cm (6 in) wide, with flattened antennae and no claws.

<i>Acetes</i> genus of crustaceans

Acetes is a genus of small shrimp that resemble krill, which is native to the western and central Indo-Pacific, the Atlantic coast of the Americas, Pacific coast of South America and inland waters of South America. Although most are from marine or estuarine habitats, the South American A. paraguayensis is a fresh water species. Several of its species are important for the production of shrimp paste in Southeast Asia, including A. japonicus, which is the world's most heavily fished species of wild shrimp or prawn in terms of total tonnage.

Palaemon affinis is a species of shrimp of the family Palaemonidae. Early authors used the name Palaemon affinis for specimens now known to belong to a variety of species, but P. affinis is now known to be endemic to the waters of New Zealand.

<i>Scyllarides</i> genus of crustaceans

Scyllarides is a genus of slipper lobsters.

<i>Crangon</i> genus of crustaceans

Crangon is a genus of shrimp.

<i>Trachysalambria curvirostris</i> species of crustacean

Trachysalambria curvirostris is a species of prawn that lives in shallow waters of the Indo-West Pacific. It is one of the most important species targeted by prawn fishery, with annual harvests of more than 300,000 t, mostly landed in China.

Shrimp Decapod crustaceans

Shrimp are decapod crustaceans with elongated bodies and a primarily swimming mode of locomotion – most commonly Caridea and Dendrobranchiata. More narrow definitions may be restricted to Caridea, to smaller species of either group or to only the marine species. Under a broader definition, shrimp may be synonymous with prawn, covering stalk-eyed swimming crustaceans with long narrow muscular tails (abdomens), long whiskers (antennae), and slender legs. Any small crustacean which resembles a shrimp tends to be called one. They swim forward by paddling with swimmerets on the underside of their abdomens, although their escape response is typically repeated flicks with the tail driving them backwards very quickly. Crabs and lobsters have strong walking legs, whereas shrimp have thin, fragile legs which they use primarily for perching.

<i>Farfantepenaeus duorarum</i> species of crustacean

Farfantepenaeus duorarum is a species of marine penaeid shrimp found around Bermuda, along the east coast of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico. They are a significant commercial species in the United States and Cuba.

Crustacean subphylum of arthropods

Crustaceans form a large, diverse arthropod taxon which includes such animals as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimps, prawns, krill, woodlice, and barnacles. The crustacean group is usually treated as a class under subphylum Mandibulata and because of recent molecular studies it is now well accepted that the crustacean group is paraphyletic, and comprises all animals in the Pancrustacea clade other than hexapods. Some crustaceans are more closely related to insects and other hexapods than they are to certain other crustaceans.

Metapenaeus monoceros is a species of prawn in the family Penaeidae. It is also known as speckled shrimp, brown shrimp and pink shrimp in English, crevette mouchetée in French, camarón moteado in Spanish, koraney chingri or honye chingri in India, ginger prawn in South Africa and choodan chemmeen in Malayalam.

Automate branchialis is a species of pistol shrimp from the family Alpheidae which was thought to be a Lessepsian migrant, i.e. a species which had colonised the Mediterranean from the Red Sea via the Suez Canal. This was because before its description in 1958 all the species of the genus Automate were found in the Indo-Pacific region. A. branchialis has not been recorded in the Indo-Pacific region and has been found to be widespread in the Mediterranean so it is now considered to be a Mediterranean endemic.

<i>Aristaeomorpha foliacea</i> species of crustacean

Aristaeomorpha foliacea, the giant red shrimp or giant gamba prawn, is a species of deep water benthopelagic decapod crustacean. It is found in all the world's oceans in the temperate and tropical zones. It is subject to some commercial fishing activity in the Mediterranean Sea.


  1. "Prawn". Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved November 27, 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Mortenson, Philip B (2010) This is not a weasel: a close look at nature's most confusing terms Pages 106–109, John Wiley & Sons. ISBN   9780471273967.
  3. Chan, TY (1998) Shrimps and prawns [ permanent dead link ] In K.E. Carpenter & V.H. Niem. The living marine resources of the western central Pacific. FAO species identification guide for fishery purposes. Rome, FAO.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Holthuis, L. B. (1980) Shrimps and prawns of the world Volume I of the FAO species catalogue, Fisheries Synopsis No.125, Rome. ISBN   92-5-100896-5.
  5. Warren S. Blumenfeld (20 November 1986). Jumbo shrimp & other almost perfect oxymorons: contradictory expressions that make absolute sense. Putnam. p. 46. ISBN   978-0-399-51306-0.
  6. "Online Etymology Dictionary: Shrimp".
  7. "Shrimp". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2008. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  8. prawn Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  9. Prawn Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  10. Liberman, Anatoly (2012) After ‘shrimp’ comes ‘prawn’ Oxford University Press's Blog, 16 May 2012.
  11. Liberman, Anatoly (2012) A scrumptious shrimp with a riddle Oxford University Press's Blog, 18 April 2012.
  12. Richardson LR, Yaldwyn JC (1958). "A Guide to the Natant Decapod Crustacea (Shrimps and Prawns) of New Zealand". Tuatara. 7 (1).
  13. Richardson LR and Yaldwyn JC (1958) A Guide to the Natant Decapod Crustacea (Shrimps and Prawns) of New Zealand Tuatara, 7 (1).
  14. "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition". Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 2011. Retrieved 21 May 2013.

Further reading