They can be distinguished from the lanternfish only by a few technical characters, such as the position of the anal fin being far behind that of the dorsal fin. Some, but not all, species also lack the light-emitting organs (photophores) of the lanternfish. They are typically between 20 centimetres (7.9 in) and 30 centimetres (12 in) in length. One genus has photophores arranged in a single series along the edge of the tongue and one or two along the ventral surface of the body.
There are just six known species of neoscopelid, grouped into three genera: