Close Encounter With a Parktown Prawn

Johannesburg newcomers often ask me about Parktown Prawns, Joburg’s most legendary insect. What do Parktown Prawns look like, people want to know. How big are they? Do Parktown Prawns really exist?

The answer to the last question is a definitive yes. You can read all about Parktown Prawns on Wikipedia. Definitely check it out because it’s a particularly entertaining Wiki entry. My favorite line is: “Accordingly they [Parktown Prawns] frighten nervous persons and they may chew carpets and fabrics.”

I’ve been wanting to write a Prawn post for years. Even though they are not actually indigenous to this area, Parktown Prawns have become a part of Joburg’s culture and folklore. Part cricket-on-steroids, part giant cockroach, park prehistoric monster, Parktown Prawns — much like this massive city that they have adapted to so well — are one-of-a-kind.

The problem is, I don’t like to write blog posts without pictures and I don’t like to download pictures from the internet. But there is no way in HELL that I will ever get close enough to a Parktown Prawn to properly photograph it. And even if I were brave enough to try, Parktown Prawns normally show up in my house at night, when good photography is impossible.

This morning though, I walked into my spare bedroom and found myself face to face with a large Prawn. As per usual, I screamed like a little girl and ran from the room.

Then I reconsidered. I fetched my phone and crept back into the room. I got within four feet of the Prawn. He moved one of his long tentacles, slightly. That hint of a movement was enough to send me screaming away again.

I went outside and found Lucky, who came in to remove the Prawn. I told Lucky how I’d tried and failed to photograph it.

“Do you want me to take a picture for you?” Lucky asked. My heart leapt. “Yes, please!” I gave Lucky the phone. He grabbed a plastic bag from the cupboard and went in.

Lucky returned a few minutes later, Prawn wrapped safely in the bag. And he brought me this.


Not bad for Lucky’s first iPhone photo. I know it’s not exactly my shot, but it was taken on my phone and I edited it. (Photo: Lucky Mashudu)

Unfortunately we didn’t think to put anything next to the Prawn for scale. But Wiki says Prawns grow to 7-8 centimeters (2.8 inches), which is approximately the length of a man’s thumb. I’d say that’s about right.

Parktown Prawns divide the people of Joburg into two distinct groups: 1) Prawn-lovers, who are fond of Parktown Prawns and praise their talent for controlling the population of snails in the garden; and 2) Prawn-haters, who fear and loathe Partown Prawns more than any other animal on earth. I obviously fall into the second group.

I’ll never forget the first time I encountered a Parktown Prawn. It was a rainy night and I was sitting on the sofa. I turned slightly to my left and saw a Prawn standing in the middle of the living room floor. I jumped up, shrieked, ran past the Prawn and into the kitchen, and leapt onto the counter. I sat up there, shaking with terror, for about 30 minutes. I texted Lucky, who wasn’t home. “Throw a towel over it,” he responded. “I’ll take it out when I come home.”

It took me another 10 minutes to venture down from the counter and sprint to the bathroom, slam the door shut behind me, and shove a towel under the door. I brushed my teeth. Then I grabbed the towel, slowly opened the bathroom door, and tiptoed out, towel held in front of me like a matador. My heart pounded.

The Prawn was gone.

I raced to the bedroom, slammed the door, pushed the towel under it, and quickly scanned the room for the Prawn. The room seemed clear. But just in case, I grabbed my wooden club and held it aloft, standing in the middle of the room for several minutes. When I finally felt confident the Prawn was not in the room with me, I settled in for a fitful night’s sleep. I never saw that Prawn again.

The purpose of this story is to convey just how petrifying a Parktown Prawn can be, even to a person like me who is relatively “brave”.

So there you have it. Parktown Prawns in a nutshell. Or rather, Parktown Prawns in an exoskeleton.

If you’re planning to move to Joburg and are worried about Prawns, I don’t have much good advice for you. But here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Prawns are more prevalent in some areas than others. Melville is crawling with them, but I know someone who has lived in neighboring Westdene for ten years and never seen one. Ask around.

2) Prawns tend to come out during the rain. During heavy rainstorms, I sometimes shove towels under all the doors to block the Prawns’ potential entry points.

3) Don’t ever try to squash a Prawn. As explained on Wikipedia: “the insects can jump actively and often eject offensive black fecal liquids when threatened”.

If a Prawn gets into your house, you must either find a Prawn-lover who knows how to safely remove it, or run screaming from the room and just hope it’s gone when you come back. (I use the latter option.)


Did I mention that Prawns have obscenely long tentacles? (Photo: Lucky Mashudu)

This post is dedicated to Martina in Jozi. Martina, you will always be the queen of the Parktown Prawn blog. I miss you.

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  • Reply MartinaInJozi April 22, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    Aw, I miss you too. I do NOT miss parktown prawns

  • Reply victoriabruce April 22, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Parktown Prawns are the devil in insect form.

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 7:14 am

      Haha, great post! That’s also an amazingly detailed photo at the top. Did you take that? If so I am truly impressed.

  • Reply georgeadimathra April 22, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Enjoyed reading that….my my, don’t they look like cockroaches???

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 7:15 am

      Yes, kind of like a cockroach…Just several times bigger and 100 times more terrifying.

  • Reply jdoe5502 April 22, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    Have you tried eating them? Like crawfish you could purge them in a bathtub and then perhaps boil them like shrimp, or maybe skewer them with some crab boil seasoning. They look succulent, and I bet with some careful breeding you could get them to grow bigger than thumb size.

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 7:16 am

      Hahahaha. Is this a joke?

  • Reply Fiver April 22, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    Brave enough to box in Hillbrow, too craven to photograph a prawn… Interesting.

    On a related note, I have a recent prawn shot from my bathroom, if you would like it. I used a looooooong zoom, and made Stuart dispose of the prawn. Yuk.

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 7:17 am

      I’m brave only in certain areas. The Parktown Prawn is not one of them.

  • Reply beeseeker April 22, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    So – district 9 anyone ??

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 7:17 am

      Yeah, great movie! I wanted to mention that in the post but it was getting too long.

  • Reply beeseeker April 22, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    But seriously: thanks for the information, very interesting reading.
    What eats these critters?

    • Reply Jeroen April 23, 2013 at 12:26 am

      Hadeda ibis eat them. Or the prawns eat the Hadedas, depending on size.

      • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 7:22 am

        Those long beaks are clearly made for Prawn-crunching.

      • Reply beeseeker April 23, 2013 at 8:17 am

        Thanks for this, saw some of these ibis in Capetown, these “city birds” were quite habituated to humans and traffic, along the promenade, in the parks.
        Good to make the connection.

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 7:18 am

      Yep, hadedas love them. Another animal mascot Joburg that I need to write about sometime soon.

      • Reply Richard April 23, 2013 at 8:43 am

        Hadedas = Sandton Eagles :)

        • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 9:11 am

          I really love hadedas. I need to get some good pics and write about them.

  • Reply Owls April 22, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    I’ll never forget the first time I HEARD a cara de nino clattering across the tile floor one night in Mexico. It was huge! And I was sorely afraid.

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 7:20 am

      Those look very similar!

  • Reply Graeme April 22, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    I’m no big fan of them, but I’ve had to take out a few in my time. On one occasion, around 16-20 in the same outside room converted to study. They’re bloody difficult to kill too. Don’t flush them; they don’t go down. Doom causes them to eject the black stuff. I even dropped a brick on one, and it was still alive the next morning.

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 7:21 am

      20 Prawns in the same room?! I might die of a heart attack if I saw that.

    • Reply M@rK69* December 10, 2013 at 7:50 am

      Boiling water is the best way!! Instantly kills them!

      • Reply 2summers December 10, 2013 at 9:40 am

        Haha, I will remember that. Although I’m guessing boiling water won’t be good for the wood parquet floors :)

  • Reply Owls April 23, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Sorry, sore afraid, not hillbilly sorely afraid. Yeehaw.

  • Reply Yashik Nanan April 23, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Hey Heather! that was fun to read. I got rid of those buggers by using one of those electronic/ultrasonic insect repellers. Took about a week for the effect to be noticable but after that… they were history! Good luck!

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 7:42 am

      That’s very interesting! I’ve never heard of such a machine. Do they repel the insects with some kind of sound or vibration?

  • Reply panos48 April 23, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Your article has been chosen by SouthWeb Editor to be ReBlogged . To see your article, visit Cheers & keep up the great work!

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 8:07 am

      Thanks for the reblog, I appreciate it. However, this is really a not a reblog. You’ve reprinted the entire text and images of my post with just a small link back to my blog at the bottom. This goes against my copyright instructions, and it’s intellectual property theft. Could you please edit your post so that it includes only the first 50 words of my post, and one photo? Then link back to my post. Thank you.

  • Reply roetsuprooted April 23, 2013 at 8:21 am

    They are known to eat leftover cat food…

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 8:24 am

      Oh yes, I actually wanted to mention that but ran out of time and space. I found one in Smokey’s food bowl a few months ago. Ew.

  • Reply Deano April 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    I love those little (err, rather large) buggers! I assume they’re not full of poison??


    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2013 at 5:06 pm

      Nope, not poisonous. Just disgusting.

  • Reply elegsabiff April 25, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Loved this blog! I have a bronze life-size one on my desk which I commissioned before I left SA, sadly it lost the scary long feelers in the move to Scotland but even so it creeps people out. I hate slugs with a passion far far beyond my fear of PPs so please post me a couple of dozen prawns as spring / summer is slug time in Scotland and the slippy little slimers are starting to gang up on me.

    Favourite mole cricket memory – as a teenager, living in garden cottage at Mum’s, I pulled on a dressing gown and ran across to the main house to ask her something. Halfway across, felt Those Feet on my back inside the dressing gown and arrived in her kitchen stark naked and shrieking hysterically. In fact I just did a whole-body shudder at the memory. Changed my mind, don’t post any.

  • Reply tomorrowslices May 1, 2013 at 10:57 am

    PP’s are definitely NOT on my list of things I miss about living in Joburg. Just seeing it in Lucky’s photos gives me the shivers.

    • Reply 2summers May 1, 2013 at 3:08 pm

      Yep, definitely one thing in Jozi I could do without. Parktown Prawns and traffic.

  • Reply Emba January 27, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    I moved to New Zealand from SA, and imagine my horror to discover that they have them here – only they’re called wetas!! Gah!! Basically the same thing, only I think they have even bigger ones (google giant cave weta). Of all the things to have in both places….

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2014 at 8:18 am

      Hahaha, I’ve heard that wetas are even worse than Parkton Prawns. You have my deepest sympathy.

  • Reply Dipak February 9, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    When we finally have that coffee, Heather Mason, I will share an engineering feat that some of my friends use to attract and trap these fine specimens OUTSIDE the house…..

    • Reply 2summers February 9, 2014 at 9:06 pm

      Ha! Okay, I look forward to it.

  • Reply bili February 21, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    I just want to know about parktown prawns that are they dangerous. Is it containing poison like snake or scorpion or it contains lightly poision. Also I want to know is this creature can bite u or can effect u some how. I have lots of questions on my mind abt this ugly bt god creation prawn.well I will be waiting for ur answer althoug I can go to librery nd search nice book abt this prawn bt its nt my nature hehehe I mean I hate to read long storry and waist my time in short cut the long story short. Please let me know as soon as possible for u. U can send me mail always with kind of knowledge. Thanks

    • Reply 2summers February 21, 2014 at 5:28 pm

      Hi Bili, no, Parktown Prawns are not poisonous and I don’t think they bite. They will, however, spray you with smelly fecal liquid. I’ve only heard about this – it’s never actually happened to me. Otherwise they are totally harmless – just really disgusting.

  • Reply nuno.curado May 24, 2014 at 12:41 am

    Hi! Nice post, great read. And I am also enjoying your blog a lot. :)
    Just a biologist’s note: they are not tentacles, but antennas! And yeah, I admit I would fit right into the Prawn lovers’ group. 😛

    • Reply 2summers May 24, 2014 at 7:27 am

      Thanks so much, Nuno. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. And thank you for the vocabulary correction. Now that you point it out, of course I realize there is a difference between antennae and tentacles. I can’t believe I never thought about it before!

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