Fresh seafood appears on millions of Aussie Christmas tables, and as the season approaches it’s common to hear people talk about ordering “crayfish” – older generations particularly, who may believe the word “lobster” is an Americanism. Not so. Here’s what each word really means.

Lobsters live in the ocean and have a huge set of front claws and four pairs of skinny legs. There are two main species. The bluish-greenish-brownish American lobster is found in the western Atlantic and can reach weights of 20 kilograms, making it the heaviest crustacean in the world. Its cousin, the European lobster, is blue-purple and weighs up to six kilograms. Both types turn a bright fire engine red after cooking. These “true” lobsters are not caught or widely sold in Australia.

Rock lobster/spiny lobster
What many Aussies eat at Christmas and call “crayfish” are actually ocean-going rock lobsters, known as spiny lobsters elsewhere in the world. They don’t have the distinctive front claws. The orangey-red southern rock lobster is caught in New Zealand and on Australia’s south-east coast, while the western rock lobster is found in WA. Both species tend to weigh a kilogram or less, but catches as large as five or six kilograms have been reported.

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Crayfish (or “crawfish” in the US) never live in the ocean – the word is an umbrella term for freshwater crustaceans, which can have different local names and species. Yabbies are found in New South Wales and Victoria, red claws in Queensland, and koonac and marron in WA. The giant Tasmanian crayfish can grow to up to six kilograms, making it the largest crayfish in the world – but it’s also endangered, and illegal to catch. Australian crayfish have front claws, but they’re not as imposing as those of an American or European lobster.

Bugs, called flathead lobsters or slipper lobsters elsewhere in the world, are clawless, with flat shovel-shaped carapaces and legs concealed underneath. The Moreton Bay bug is found in Australia’s tropical and subtropical seas, while the less popular Balmain bug lives further south. Both species max out at about 500 grams.

What we call scampi, Europeans tend to call Norwegian lobsters, Dublin Bay prawns or langoustine. Different species live around the world, but they all have a similar look: more prawn than lobster, with a slim, orange or blush-pink body. In Australia most scampi is caught off the coast of Port Hedland in WA, with a lot of the east coast’s supply imported from NZ.