- Scientific name: Palaemon serratus
- Size: Up to 10cm in length
- Distribution: Found all around the coastline of England and Ireland, but in greater numbers in the south west of England as well as parts of Ireland and Wales. Also found along the coast of Africa and throughout the Mediterranean.
The common prawn is found around most of the British Isles. It is an important species as it provides a source of prey to many species of fish, and is also a commercially important species. It also has a use to anglers as a bait.
This species has two small claws on its front legs, and three pairs of walking legs. It is usually translucent in appearance with brown, yellow or pinkish-red stripes. The rostrum (head section) curves upwards. Long, trailing antenna extend from the head.
Habitat, Feeding and Life Cycle
The common prawn can be found in the inter-tidal zone, and will also live in depths down to around fifty metres. They generally live in groups and prefer rocky areas where they will hide in the gaps and crevices between rocks, or make their home underneath rocks or within heavy seaweed beds. The common prawn will feed on anything it can find, with dead fish and the remains of any form of sea creature being eaten. As well as this small crustaceans will be hunted, and shellfish which have been dislodged from their homes will also be consumed. The common prawn is an omnivore and will also feed on plant matter, algae and organic debris if they are present. Prawns are themselves prey for a large number of species with all British demersal fish such as cod, plaice, whiting and haddock all feeding on prawns if they are present.
Breeding can take place any time from early summer to November. Thousands of eggs are fertilised externally and then carried by the female. After three to four months the eggs will hatch and swim as pelagic larvae before turning into the adult prawns and living for the rest of their life on the seabed. It is thought that the common prawn can live for a maximum of five or six years.
There are several other species of prawns in British waters such as Palaemon elegans, Palaemon adspersus and Palaemon longirostris. However, these species are very similar to the common prawn (often the only difference is number of body segments or some other small detail). They all live in similar ground to the common prawn and have a broadly similar life cycle and similar feeding habits.
Being one of the Big Five species eaten by UK consumers prawns are a highly valuable commercial species. While many of the prawns which are eaten in the UK are imported tropical species there are commercial fisheries for UK prawns, mostly working out of ports in south west England and parts of Scotland. Although the common prawn is not under threat and is not listed as a species of concern by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) there are worries that the species could be in danger of overfishing, due to the lack of regulation in the common prawn fisheries. Due to the very small mesh size which is needed to catch prawns there are also significant problems with fish species being caught as bycatch by prawn trawlers.
Prawns are a useful bait for UK sea anglers. More information can be found here.