Graceful Sky-blue Shrimp, Chlorotocella gracilis

Prawns & Shrimps

Queensland waters abound with many species of prawns and shrimps, many of which are commercially important, and others which are highly colourful.


Prawns and shrimps are an incredibly diverse group, with around 4,000 species known from around the world, and about 900 in Australia. While they are primarily marine, they can be found in a variety of environments, ranging from intertidal pools to deep-sea hydrothermal vents; however they also are common in estuaries and fresh water. These crustaceans are both free-swimming and bottom-dwelling in habit, and sometimes commensal. An ancient group, their fossil record dates from the mid-Jurassic, around 180 million years ago.

Often the common names 'prawn' and 'shrimp' are used interchangeably. While there is no universally accepted difference amongst the general public, the terms represent two major biological divisions based on gill and limb anatomy. Specifically, caridean shrimps have claws on only their first two pairs of legs, while dendrobranchiate prawns have claws on the first three. The latter group also forms the basis of important commercial fisheries around the world.

Prawn and shrimp species found in Queensland include: 

  • Banana Prawn (Penaeus merguiensis)
  • Bruce's Hinge-beak Prawn (Rhynchocinetes brucei)
  • Bold-spotted Anemone Shrimp (Thor amboinensis)
  • Brown Tiger Prawn (Penaeus esculentus)
  • Eastern King Prawn (Penaeus plebejus)
  • Pacific Clown Anemone Shrimp (Ancylocaris brevicarpalis)
  • Spiny Tiger Shrimp (Phyllognathia ceratophthalma)

Common questions

Although the terms are frequently used interchangeably, prawns have claws on the first three pairs of legs, and shrimps have claws on the first two pairs. But the easiest way to tell is to examine the abdominal segments. On shrimp, the second segment of the abdomen overlaps the first and the third segments, whereas in prawns there is practically no overlap.

The Giant Tiger Prawn, Penaeus monodon, is the world’s largest prawn. Females can reach 35 centimetres and males can measure almost 27 centimetres in length.

Shrimp of the family Alpheidae are commonly termed snapping or pistol shrimps. Most of them possess a large, bulky claw with a peg-and-socket mechanism which, when closed rapidly, causes the characteristic clicking or snapping sound. The force generated by this action causes an underwater shockwave that stuns their prey, which includes worms, small fish and other crustaceans.

Fact sheets


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