Zebra-tailed lizards live in open desert with fairly hard-packed soil, scattered vegetation and scattered rocks, typically desert flats, washes and plains. They range from 2.5 to 4 inches (60–100 mm) in length. These lizards are grey to sandy brown, usually with series of paired dark gray spots down the back, becoming black bands on the tail. The underside of tail is white with black bands. Males have a pair of black blotches on the side, extending to blue patches on the belly. Females have no blue patches, and the black bars are either faint or completely absent.
They are diurnal and alert. They rise early and are active in all but the hottest weather. During the hottest times of day, lizards may stand alternately on two legs, switching to the opposite two as needed in a kind of dance. When threatened they will run swiftly with their toes curled up and tails raised over their backs exposing the stripes. They can even run on their hind legs for short distances. In areas of creosote scrub this lizard seems to reach highest densities, around 4.8 to 6.0 individuals per acre (600 to 800 m² per lizard). This lizard burrows into fine sand for retreat at night and usually seeks day shelter in the shade of bushes.
In summer, 2 to 8 eggs are typically laid, hatching anywhere from July to November. However, more than 1 clutch can be laid during a season. Eggs are laid, presumably, in friable, sandy soil. Being a prey species for many animals, including birds, other lizards, and mammals, they have a fairly high reproductive potential.
There are numerous subspecies, listed below.