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What's different about Shrimp vs. Prawns?

Are Prawns and Shrimps the Same?

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If you love eating seafood, you would probably look directly at the seafood section of a restaurant menu and look for prawn or shrimp dishes. This is because a lot of us might have observed that the terms “shrimp” and “prawn” are used interchangeably from one restaurant to another. To the general public, shrimps and prawns are very similar and this is primarily because the harvesting and preparation process obscures their differences.

Let’s look at the similarities of shrimps and prawns first. Both thrive in saltwater and freshwater all over the world and have a tendency to settle close to the ocean floor in search of food. They are considered decapods which are described to have five pairs of legs attached to their thorax and they are protected by exoskeletons. They vary in size but have similar flavors when cooked.

Most people look at shrimps’ and prawns’ sizes to differentiate them. Prawns are generally thought of to be bigger compared to shrimps. Biologically speaking, though, it becomes a little complicated because the two belong to different suborders. Shrimps belong to suborder Pleocyemata while prawns belong to suborder Dendobranchiata.

In order to clearly differentiate the two crustaceans, one has to look at their gill structures. Prawns are described to have gills that are plate-like or lamellar, while shrimps have gills that spread out like branches. Their pincers are also different. Prawns have bigger second pincers while shrimps have bigger front pincers. The legs of prawns are also longer compared to shrimps. These differences may not be obvious, but they clearly indicate the difference in evolution of the two.

Both prawns and shrimps have different known varieties for consumption. Consumable prawn species include deep water, bay, tiger and king prawns. Popular shrimp varieties include white, pink, spot, brown and Northern shrimp.

Consumers are encouraged by conservation organizations to purchase prawns and shrimps carefully because many of these creatures are sold in countries with lenient fishing and environmental policies. In the US, significant changes have been made to the laws that govern shrimp farming. This is to ensure sustainability so these seafood can be bought at reasonable prices in grocery stores. Northern shrimps and spot prawns caught in the wild are also perfect buys.

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