Shellder is a black pearl-like Pokémon encased within a spiky, blue-violet bivalve shell. It has two round white eyes with tiny black pupils. Its enormously long red tongue is used to burrow itself into sand to sleep overnight, and also to lure and capture prey. It typically hunts along the seafloor. It can make pearls from accumulated sand, though it discards them as it can affect its hunting. Its soft and tender body is well-protected by its extremely durable shell, which is purported to be harder than diamonds and has historically been used by people to make shields. Prehistoric Shellder were apparently preyed upon by Omastar, whose powerful bites were capable of breaking through its shell. Kingler, Rufflet, and Bruxish also prey on Shellder.
Shellder has an unusually strong appetite for the tail of a Slowpoke, and can develop a symbiotic relationship with the Dopey Pokémon. After attaching itself to the Slowpoke's tail, the two undergo a metamorphosis and together evolve into Slowbro. Alternatively, if it attaches to the head of a Slowpoke in possession of a King's Rock, the two will instead evolve into Slowking. These relationships allow it to travel onto land and obtain a new stage in its life cycle.
Regardless of which form the two Pokémon evolve into, Shellder's shell transforms into a spiny, spiraled cone with several tiers. Sharp teeth develop around the rim of the shell to anchor it securely to the evolved Slowpoke, and its eyes now peek out from the bottom rim of the shell. In its crown form, Shellder will have a red jewel on its underside and a large horn on either side of its shell.
While in its crown form, Shellder will periodically release its venom into Slowking's brain. This is actually beneficial to Slowking, as it causes the Regal Pokémon's intelligence to increase. Higher quantities of venom intensify this effect, and Shellder is easily provoked into releasing more whenever Slowking yawns. However, Shellder's poison makes Slowbro more sluggish as it continues to drain nutrients from its host's body.
Shellder has two former signature moves. It can shoot spears of ice by using Icicle Spear, or clamp tightly to its opponents using Clamp. Despite its hard shell, clamping on to an opponent will reveal its vulnerable parts. Because of this, it will only clamp itself to a foe as a last resort. It swims around its seafloor home by rapidly opening and closing its shell while facing backward.
In the anime
For a comprehensive list of Shellder's appearances in the anime as part of Slowbro or Slowking, see the anime sections of Slowbro and Slowking.
Pokémon Pinball: Three Shellder appear on the Red Table and give the player points when hit. When Catch'em Mode is activated, they also reveal the silhouette of the Pokémon attempting to be captured upon being hit.
In the anime, Shellder is required to evolve Slowpoke into Slowbro or Slowking. Shellder clamps onto a Slowpoke's tail to evolve into Slowbro, or onto its head while wearing the King's Rock to evolve into a Slowking. Even though Shellder changes form drastically when it bonds with Slowpoke to evolve (see above), it is not considered an evolution in and of itself.
In the episode The Evolution Solution, it is revealed that Shellder is still capable of speech as the shell of a Slowbro.
Shellder were shown to be capable of floating through the air in Pokémon Snap, a trait that has been seen in no other media.