Prawns are decapod crustaceans that are closely related to shrimp. Often confused with shrimp, prawns are much larger and come from different family groups.
Both saltwater and freshwater species of prawns exist. They are an economically significant type of seafood that are farmed and fished extensively for human consumption.
Here are 14 fascinating facts about these delicious crustaceans:
- The largest prawn species is the giant tiger prawn which can grow up to a foot long and weigh over 20 ounces. These massive prawns are native to the Indo-Pacific region.
- Prawns have a complex body structure featuring a hard exoskeleton, segmented body, jointed legs, and eyes on movable stalks. Their front three pairs of legs have pincers while the back three pairs are used for swimming.
- Prawns are omnivores that feed on algae, plankton, and small fish. Their daily diet can include plant matter, detritus, dead animals, and fungus. They even eat their old exoskeletons after molting.
- These crustaceans have a sophisticated sensory system. Their antennules and antennae allow them to detect chemicals in the water to find food and mates. Their stalked eyes can also move independently for a wide field of vision.
- Most prawn species undergo larval development after hatching from their eggs. They will molt and change forms through nauplius, protozoea, mysis, and postlarval stages before reaching adulthood.
- Prawns use a fast strike to catch prey by rapidly unfurling their abdominal muscle. This swift contraction creates a jet of water that sucks the prey towards the prawn’s waiting claws and mouthparts.
- While often confused with shrimp, there are some key differences. Prawns have three pairs of claw-like legs whereas shrimp have two. Prawns also have longer legs and second pincers.
- The giant tiger prawn has been recorded migrating over 185 miles from shore. Most prawns are good swimmers capable of bursts of speed up to 22 body lengths per second.
- Prawns communicate through a mixture of visual displays, sound, touch, and chemical signals. For example, a male will flick his antennules to signal his dominance over other males when competing for a mate.
- These crustaceans play an important role in aquatic food chains and are a key prey species for larger predators. Prawns are a major food source for fish, sharks, crocodiles, seabirds, and other animals.
- Prawn aquaculture began in the 1970s and has boomed into a massive global industry producing over 7 million metric tons annually. About 75% of prawns on the market are now farm-raised.
- Wild prawn fisheries bring in another 3 million metric tons per year on average. Trawl fishing methods can damage seabeds so some fisheries are switching to traps which have less environmental impact.
- Popular prawn dishes include tempura prawns, garlic prawns, prawn cocktail, grilled prawns, prawn curry, fried rice with prawns, and more. These versatile crustaceans are valued for their sweet, succulent meat.
- Due to overfishing and habitat loss, some wild prawn species are now considered vulnerable with declining populations. Sustainable fishing practices are being implemented to prevent further ecological damage.
In summary, prawns are fascinating creatures that play a vital ecological role while also being an extremely popular seafood choice. Their unique appearance and behaviors are just a part of what makes prawns so interesting. Learning more about their life cycles, development, and interactions reveals why these crustaceans have captured our culinary attention.
Prawns offer more than just great taste on a dinner plate. Their complex biology and lifecycles showcase an often overlooked level of biodiversity in the world’s oceans and waterways. Beyond being a lucrative fishery and aquaculture industry, prawns provide insights into the interconnectedness of nature. Their place on our tables links back to the health of marine ecosystems across the globe.