Mantle membranous in larvae, tough and leathery in juveniles and adults, semigelatinous in mature females, spindle-shaped. In juveniles (ML >12-13 mm) and adults anterior half of mantle, dorsal head side, and arm bases covered by numerous tiny skin teeth, shagreen-like. At each mantle-to-funnel fusion site, 2 compound cartilaginous tubercles usually with 5-6 tips; at mantle-to-head fusion site 2 short cartilaginous ridges, usually with 3 tips, beside anterior end of gladius. Head narrow, with short "snout" (arm-crown pillar) in larvae. Eyes on short stalks in larvae, not stalked at ML >20 mm. Fins in larvae petaloid, very small, later (ML 20-25 mm) round, then rounded diamond-shaped, and in late juveniles and adults lancet-shaped. Length in adults 35-45% ML, width 15-20% ML, anterior fin margin at site of maximum width of lanceola. Arms short, approx. 25% ML, in juveniles and adults (ML >25-35 mm), 3rd-4th arms longer than 1st-2nd. Suckers in 2 rows, rings with some blunt or acute teeth. Tentacles long in larvae (longer than mantle at ML <10 mm), in juveniles and adults approx. half of ML. Club short, with 4 rows of suckers in larvae but in adults central rows with 5-6 pairs of large acute hooks with widened base, covered by skin hood, and small marginal suckers. Fixing apparatus: an oval carpal group of knobs and suckers, and 2 rows of alternating knobs and suckers on distal 2/3 of stalk. No arm photophores in mature females. Ends of 1st-2nd arms modified in males bearing 2 rows of abruptly reduced suckers. Medial component of funnel organ with three conical papillae. Funnel valve absent. Two photophores on eyeball, one small narrow arc-like, one large crescent-shaped.
Larvae and juveniles semitransparent with dispersed red-brown chromatophores grouped in irregular transverse rows on mantle. ML up to 50 cm. Larvae identifiable by short eyestalks and fin, juveniles by cartilaginous tubercles and shagreen mantle. First tubercles at mantle-to-head fusion sites appear in larvae at ML 5-6 mm, 2nd and 3rd tips at ML 10-12 mm and approx. 25 mm, respectively. At mantle-to-funnel fusion sites in larvae ML 7, 9, 15, 18, and approx. 30 mm there are 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 tubercles, respectively. Club hooks begin to form at ML 55-65 mm.
Five species, 3 in the South Atlantic. Galiteuthis glacialis is one of commonest Antarctic squids, rarely found northward of the Antarctic Convergence. Two other species have smooth mantle, no tubercles at mantle-to-head fusion sites, and smooth arm sucker rings: an Atlantic tropical-subtropical species Galiteuthis armata Joubin, 1898 (2-4 small single-pointed cartilaginous tubercles at sites of mantle-to-funnel fusion at ML >25 mm), and a southern subtropical-subantarctic species Galiteuthis suhmi (Hoyle, 1885) (one tubercle with 5-6 tips at sites of mantle-to-funnel fusion in adults).