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What is Tiger Shrimp?

By Rebecca Cartwright
Updated May 21, 2024
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There are two different shrimp species sometimes called tiger shrimp. Penaeus monodon is a member of the penaeid family of saltwater shrimp, native to the waters of the Indo Pacific region and an important part of the aquaculture industry. The other species is Caridina cantonensis "Tiger," a freshwater shrimp found in the southern part of China. This tiger shrimp is sold in the aquarium trade but is not otherwise commercially important.

In addition to the tiger shrimp appellation, Penaeus monodon is also called the Asian tiger shrimp, black tiger shrimp, tiger prawn and giant tiger prawn. "Giant" is a fitting name for these shrimp, as they reach a length of 10.5 to 13 inches (26.5 to 33 cm) and weigh an average of 5.25 ounces (about 150 grams). Females are usually larger than males.

The Asian tiger shrimp is native to the ocean of south and southeast Asia, Australia, the Philippines, and East Africa. It is probably the shrimp most commonly found in aquaculture and is raised commercially not only in its native range but in other parts of the world such as the Caribbean. Specimens of this shrimp have occasionally been found in the waters off the eastern US, but there is no sign of a population established there. Authorities theorize that these isolated individuals probably escaped from commercial operations.

In the wild, adult Asian tiger shrimp live on the ocean floor at depths of 100 to 160 feet (about 20 – 50 m) Depending on the area, their shells can be brown, gray, green, red, or blue, with alternating stripes of blue or black, and yellow. Larval and juvenile stage Asian tiger shrimp live in coastal estuaries, mangrove swamps and lagoons. The shrimp are predatory, hunting all kinds of small marine life, and they also scavenge for food.

Caridina cantonensis "Tiger," the freshwater shrimp, is much smaller than the Asian tiger shrimp, reaching a maximum length of 1 to 1.25 inches (about 2.5 to 3 cm). Females are larger and have a rounder body on the underside. The young do not go through a larval stage, but instead hatch out as tiny versions of adults.

They are a popular species for aquariums, easy to care for and to breed, and not aggressive with other aquarium dwellers. The tiger shrimp itself has a yellow tail and head, with black stripes on the body. There are several other subspecies of Caridina cantonensis, varying principally in body color. Blue, red and black are some of the variations. The various subspecies can interbreed and will often produce offspring with mixed colors.

Tiger Shrimp Invasive Populations

The Asian tiger shrimp has also been deemed an invasive species in Gulf of Mexico waters. In 1998, a population of tiger shrimp from an aquaculture farm was accidentally released in southern U.S. waters. Ever since, tiger prawns have been captured along the shores of Texas, Alabama, Florida and other southern states. Some tiger prawns have also been found in the Caribbean and along the coast of West Africa.

The problem with this shrimp is its large size compared to native shrimp species in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean waters. Giant tiger prawns prey on smaller, native shrimp and could potentially endanger other species of shrimp in these regions. The local authorities encourage fishermen to keep any tiger prawns they catch. Farming of this invasive species is prohibited in Texas.

Tiger Prawn Consumption

The large size of the tiger prawn and its sweet, buttery taste makes it an excellent shrimp for eating. Most tiger prawns used for food are farmed rather than wild-caught. Nearly 50% of all cultivated shrimp in the world are tiger prawns. When shopping for black tiger shrimp, follow these tips:

  • Check out local Asian markets to find this type of shrimp instead of going to your everyday grocery store.
  • Smell the shrimp before purchasing. Fresh shrimp should have a slight seawater smell. If the smell is strong or foul, avoid it.
  • Opt for raw shrimp that still has the head and tail on for the freshest product.
  • The packaging should indicate the ratings and country of origin of the farmed shrimp.
  • Most tiger prawns for consumption come from Asian shrimp farms, are frozen when shipped and are thawed once they arrive at the market.

Cultivation Techniques

Tiger shrimp are cultivated around the world at hatcheries. Most of the world's cultivated tiger prawns are exported to countries in Europe. Tiger prawn hatcheries produce larvae in massive amounts. The farms may start out by catching wild spawners, which can release more than 200,000 eggs in stocking ponds.

Larvae take about three weeks to reach the postlarvae stage. At this point, the prawns can start feeding on plankton. Farmers then start weaning the young and switching them to commercial feed. The babies reach maturity and are ready for harvesting after a few months. At that point, they are trapped, washed and either frozen or cooked.

Disease Vulnerability

Tiger prawns are also vulnerable to various types of diseases in the wild and when grown in aquaculture. They are susceptible to the Yellowhead Virus, White Spot Syndrome Virus, Baculoviral Midgut Gland Necrosis and Monodon Baculovirus. All of these diseases are highly contagious and can wipe out populations in a small habitat. In an aquaculture setting, an outbreak could be devastating.

Ecological Impact

The tiger prawn farming industry also has an environmental impact on coastal areas. Many of these farms are located along coastal waters. The aquaculture farm ponds may release chemicals, biological waste and antibiotics from shrimp cultivation into the oceans and estuaries. Additionally, some of the salt used for cultivation may seep into the groundwater.

Breeding the "Tiger" Bee Shrimp

The other type of popular tiger shrimp, the freshwater bee shrimp, is not consumed. Instead, this shrimp is cultivated for home aquarium enjoyment. Hobbyists have been selectively breeding bee shrimp for specific colors and patterns.

Home aquarists and professional bee shrimp breeders start with a small group of male and female shrimp housed together in one aquarium. If water conditions are ideal, the shrimp may start to breed and produce young. The young hatch between 24 and 28 days later, depending on the temperature of the water in the tank. Water that is kept too warm may end up with faster development and higher mortality for young and adult shrimp.

Aquarium Design

Bee shrimp are finicky when it comes to water perimeters and aquarium habitat. They prefer an established aquarium over a new tank setup. It should be a freshwater tank that has plenty of crevices and hiding spots for these tiny critters when they feel shy or threatened. The temperature should be a little cooler than a standard tropical aquarium. Home aquarium enthusiasts can add plants, rocks, driftwood and a good layer of substrate.

Diet and Care

In the home aquarium, bee shrimp can be fed pellets and flakes that sink to the bottom. They also enjoy eating algae, so they should be provided with algae wafers or natural algae in the tank. The shrimp may also scavenge leftover food and debris from plants. They should only be housed with peaceful fish and other freshwater creatures that don't see bee shrimp as prey.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a tiger shrimp?

Tiger shrimp, scientifically known as Penaeus monodon, are a species of large marine shrimp found in the Indo-Pacific region. They are named for their distinctive dark stripes on their shell, which resemble a tiger's pattern. These shrimp are not only popular in the culinary world for their size and flavor but are also significant in aquaculture due to their rapid growth and high market value.

How can you identify a tiger shrimp?

Tiger shrimp can be identified by their large size, often reaching up to 13 inches in length, and their striking coloration. They have a translucent body with bold, dark stripes that run longitudinally down their shell. The combination of their size and unique striped pattern makes them easily distinguishable from other shrimp species.

Where do tiger shrimp naturally occur?

Tiger shrimp are native to the warm waters of the Indo-Pacific region, spanning from the eastern coast of Africa to the southern part of Asia and Australia. They inhabit both the open ocean and estuarine environments, often burrowing in sandy or muddy bottoms at depths of up to 72 meters, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

What is the ecological impact of tiger shrimp?

The introduction of non-native tiger shrimp into ecosystems, such as the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, can have significant ecological impacts. They may compete with local species for food and habitat, potentially disrupting the balance of the marine environment. Their presence can also lead to changes in the biodiversity and structure of local ecosystems.

Why are tiger shrimp important in aquaculture?

Tiger shrimp are one of the most widely farmed shrimp species due to their fast growth rates and high yield. They are a key commodity in global seafood markets, with farms primarily located in Asia. The farming of tiger shrimp contributes significantly to the economy of many developing countries, providing employment and export revenues.

What are the concerns associated with tiger shrimp farming?

While tiger shrimp farming is economically important, it raises environmental concerns such as habitat destruction, particularly of mangrove forests, water pollution from farm effluents, and the risk of disease spread. Responsible farming practices and improved regulations are essential to mitigate these impacts and ensure the sustainability of shrimp aquaculture.

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Discussion Comments

By chivebasil — On Jun 29, 2012

There is a market close to me that always has tiger shrimp for sale really cheap. I am intrigued but I have never bought them.

In my experience, when it comes to seafood you get what you pay for. So these shrimp are almost suspiciously cheap. I don't know how they could sell for so little and be any good at all.

By gravois — On Jun 28, 2012

What is the proper technique for cooking tiger shrimp? Is it best to boil it and then put it in a pan to cook in butter or can I start them straight in a pan? If so, how long do they take to cook?

By Ivan83 — On Jun 28, 2012

I have tried a few different tiger shrimp recipes because it is probably my favorite kind of seafood. The shrimp flavor is so deep and rich in a tiger shrimp compared to other kinds.

It is good in pasta but it is the best in Asian dishes, especially curry. I made a Thai green curry with tiger shrimp and it was like it was sent down from heaven.

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