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 species also lack the light-emitting organs (photophores) of the lanternfish. They are typically between 20 and 30 cm (7.9 and 11.8 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.
The six known species of neoscopelids are grouped into three genera: