Moderate, solitary or clustered, unarmed, pleonanthic, hermaphroditic palms. Stem erect or procumbent (Chelyocarpus repens), slender, naked except for fibrous remains of leaf sheaths below the crown, closely ringed with narrow leaf scars. Leaves spreading, induplicate, palmate, or shortly costapalmate (C. chuco), sheath fibrous, not splitting opposite the petiole, densely velvety-hairy, golden-brown when young, with a prominent fibrous ligule on each side of the petiole at its apex, this disintegrating into loose fibres in age; petiole elongate, unarmed, not splitting basally, adaxially channelled basally, becoming angled distally, abaxially rounded, margins thin; adaxial hastula often large, erect, deltoid, abaxial hastula narrow, ridge-like; blade flat, thin, divided along the central abaxial fold to well beyond the middle or nearly to the base, each half further divided adaxially into paired or irregularly grouped, rather wide, single-fold segments (C. chuco), or divided to the base into elongate, wedge-shaped, many-fold segments, these again divided into several acute or very briefly bifid, single-fold, 1-ribbed segments, midribs raised abaxially, blade strongly discolorous or concolorous, transverse veinlets evident. Inflorescences interfoliar, pendulous, branching to 1 or 2 orders; peduncle flattened, short; prophyll flattened, tubular, with long fibrous beak, shortly 2-keeled laterally, surfaces and margins covered in dense soft tomentum; peduncular bracts 3(–4), like the prophyll but lacking keels; rachis flattened; first-order branches several, recurved, flattened, basally adnate to the rachis, each subtended by a prominent rachis bract similar to those on the peduncle but progressively smaller distally, at least the lower first-order branches bearing a membranous prophyll (C. chuco), or the lower rachillae sometimes fasciculate or subfasciculate on short branches but the bracts subtending first-order branches, small and not like those on the peduncle; rachillae usually adnate for some distance above an acute, sometimes elongate subtending bract and bearing spirally arranged, small to prominent, acute bracts each subtending a sessile or shortly pedicellate flower. Flowers (at least in C. ulei) strongly scented; sepals 2 or 3, distinct or briefly connate basally, or 4, distinct, and slightly imbricate; petals like the sepals; stamens 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9, one opposite each sepal, remainder opposite the petals, filaments erect, distinct, fleshy, thick and broad below, ± abruptly narrowed at the tip, anthers exserted at anthesis, dorsifixed at the middle, bifid at apex and base, latrorse; carpels 3 or 2, rarely 1 or 4, follicular, style short, somewhat recurved, stigma papillose, ovule hemianatropous, attached adaxially at the base, an aril present and basally fused to the locular wall. Pollen ellipsoidal, ± bi-symmetric, or with slight to obvious asymmetry, less frequently, oblate triangular; aperture a distal sulcus or, infrequently, a trichotomosulcus; ectexine tectate, coarsely perforate or foveolate-reticulate, aperture margin finely perforate; longest axis 22–36 µm [3/4]. Fruit usually developing from only 1 carpel, globose with eccentrically apical stigmatic remains; epicarp smooth or coarsely corky-warted, mesocarp thick, dry, endocarp membranous. Seed basally attached, globose, hilum basal, circular, raphe slightly impressed along the length of the seed and with ascending branches, endosperm homogeneous; embryo below or above the middle opposite the raphe. Germination remote-tubular; eophyll bifid. Cytology: 2n = 36 ± satellite.
The species occur at low elevations in areas of high rainfall. It is particularly interesting to note that the distribution of these species corresponds with three of nine refugia — Madeira-Tapajos, East Peruvian, Choco — postulated by Haffer (1969) as regions where rain forest persisted during drier epochs of the Pleistocene.