What Is Living Down In My Water Meter?

PEEC Amateur Naturalist
What is living down in my Water Meter?

A number of streets in the western area of Los Alamos have been rebuilt during the past two years. Part of the rebuilding has involved putting canisters into the ground and then placing water meters in them.

The canisters are about 18 inches across and go down about two feet into the ground. The depth means that water pipes will not freeze because the temperature of the surrounding soil is relatively warm and insolates pipes from cold air above. Moisture may be present in some cases if water seeps from around the pipe couplings of a water meter.

Tiger salamander. Photo by Beth Cortwright

A canister with its cover plate can become a small, cozy cave for wildlife. It provides moisture, warmth and darkness for hiding.

Tiger salamanders are a prime tenant for such a cave. Tiger salamanders are burrowers. They may crawl in at the top if a cover plate is not closing a canister completely. They also can dig down and come up into a canister from the bottom.

Public utilities staff therefore may see a lot more than a water gauge when they open a canister. Who is expecting to see something that looks like a stocky, colorful lizard and may be nearly a foot in length?

Tiger salamander. Photo by Beth Cortwright

A tiger salamander is not a species of lizard. A tiger salamander has soft skin that looks and feels moist. Salamanders are a species of amphibian since they lay their eggs in water and the larvae have gills while maturing in streams or ponds.

Different species of adult salamanders may have lungs or breathe through their skin. Lizards in contrast emerge from eggs on land and breathe with lungs. They have a dry scaly skin. The light and dark pattern of the skin of a tiger salamander resembles the pattern on a tiger, and so results in its name. 

A utilities staff member recently found a tiger salamander when checking a water meter and brought it to the PEEC Nature Center. Come by the Nature Center to see it.


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