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They both taste great boiled and dipped in butter, but one is considered a delicacy while the other is associated with home style cooking. The difference is more than just cooking methods, regional tastes or availability -- lobsters and crayfish are two different animals with different habitat and diet preferences as well as growth patterns.
Lobsters and crayfish have a very similar appearance, with two large front claws, tough exoskeletons and eight legs. Crayfish, however, are much smaller, averaging two to six inches long, while lobsters are typically at least eight inches long when they are harvested for food, although they can grow up to 20 inches or more. Placed side by side it might be difficult for the average person to tell the difference between a lobster and a crayfish, except for the difference in size.
Habitat and Diet
Besides size, the major difference between lobsters and crayfish is that lobsters live in saltwater, such as oceans and seas, while crayfish live in freshwater, including lakes, rivers, streams and ponds. Within their respective waterways, however, lobsters and crayfish prefer similar habitats, dwelling mainly on the bottom and hiding under rocks and in crevices. Lobsters prey mainly on small fish, prawns, clams, snails and other small ocean animals. They may occasionally scavenge. Crayfish eat plants, insects, worms and just about anything else they can find on the muddy bottom they like to call home.
Lobsters without claws, like spiny and rock lobsters, are often called crayfish, even though technically the term is incorrect. The most commonly used name might vary by region, but if it lives in saltwater, it's technically a lobster. Adding to the confusion is the fact that crayfish are closer in appearance and relation to clawed lobsters than the version without claws, and that there are many other names used for crayfish. These include crawdad, crayfish, crays and even mud bugs or mud puppies. There is also langostino, or squat lobster, which isn't really a lobster, but a crab with a body shaped like a lobster.
With so much play in semantics, it can be difficult to know whether a menu option is truly clawed lobster, a spiny or rock lobster, crayfish or squat lobster, unless it is served whole or with the claws intact. The flavor of the different types is similar, except for squat lobster, which has both a texture and flavor that is closer to shrimp than lobster. Preparation and serving style is usually different between crayfish and lobster, however, with only the lobster tail, having been split and either boiled or steamed, being served in many cases and the entire crawdad boiled and served either in a large pile of crawdads or as part of a seafood medley or stew.
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