"Want some sea food, mama! Shrimpers and rice, that's very nice!"
--Fats Waller, American blues singer

"I shall be but a shrimp of an author"
--English poet Thomas Gray in Sketch of his own Character, 1768

"A shrimp who sought his lady shrimp
Could catch no glimpse,
Not even a glimp.
At times translucence
Is rather a nuisance."

--Ogden Nash (1962)

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(Decapoda Crustacea, suborder Natantia)

This yummy little marine crustacean swimmer is found in most coastal areas. Like the prawn, lobster, and crayfish, to which it is related, it has 10 jointed legs--with swimmerettes on the abdominal segments. The exoskeleton is flexible, not calcified, usually grayish, and translucent or transparent--but turns bright pink when it is heated.

There are too many species to list, but one of the most well known is Crangon crangon--the small brown shrimp fished in Europe and the Mediterranan--and its related Crangon franciscorum in California and the northeast Pacific. The tiny shrimp fished in southeast Asia are made into blacang, a fermented shrimp paste used as seasoning throughout the region.

So what's the difference between shrimp and prawns? Mainly a linguistic one. A United Nation's catalogue explains:

...in Great Britain the term "shrimp" is the more general of the two, and is the only term used for Crangonidae and most smaller species. "Prawn" is the more special of the two names, being used solely for Palaemondiae and larger forms, never for the very small ones.

In North America the name "prawn" is practically obsolete and is almost entirely replaced by the word "shrimp" (used for even the largest species, which may be called "jumbo shrimp"). If the word "prawn" is used at all in America it is attached to small species.

If you're peeling the shrimp for a recipe, don't throw out the shells. Tossed in a little hot oil til crispy, then steeped in simmering water, they make a wonderful stock.