Welcome, amateur microscopists, taxonomists, and at-home scientists, to the first of our three-part series in which you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to get started in the amateur microscopy hobby.
An “amateur” microscopist is anyone who enjoys using a microscope just for the pleasure of discovery and learning, not necessarily because doing so is part of their profession (although it certainly might be). If you’ve never considered this hobby before, you might be surprised to learn that it can actually be very rewarding—there’s something quite magical about leaving our world behind and exploring that other world that’s all around us: the world of the very small.
Since mushroom spores are our specialty, we’ll be examining the topic from that perspective. Specifically, you’ll learn about why studying mushroom spores under a microscope is so fascinating, how to do it, and where you can get your very own mushroom spore specimens (tip: right here!).
What Kind of Equipment Do I Need for Amateur Microscopy?
The most important piece of gear for this hobby is, of course, a microscope!
Microscopes can range in price from very entry-level units that will run you under a hundred bucks, to mid-range units for a few hundred, and then of course there’s very high-end microscopes that can cost thousands of dollars.
Most amateur microscopists start out with something on the lower end of that spectrum as an affordable way to try out the hobby; even a “cheap” microscope will provide you with many, many hours of fun and education; you can always upgrade later if you want to delve deeper with better magnification, the ability to take high-definition photos of your specimens, and just overall enjoy the quality of a sturdier device.
Here at Quality Spores, we carry a few microscopes in each of those tiers.
Perfect for absolute beginners, here are the budget-conscious starter microscopes we carry:
- KKmoon 1600X / 1000X 8-LED Microscopic Camera
- LED Microscope Kit 100X-400X-1200X For Kids
- 1000x HD Microscope w/ 1080P Camera
You’ll also find in our store a couple of excellent mid-range microscopes:
- Digital Microscope 12MP | 7″ LCD Display 1-1200X Magnifier
- Zoom 2000x Biological HD Microscope +13PCS Accessories
And, if you want a high-end microscope, we recommend this one:
In addition to the microscope itself, you’ll also want to pick up a few accessories, the most important of which are microscope slides—this is where you’ll place your specimens. A box of 50 basic microscope slides only costs a few dollars, although you can spend a bit more for slides with cover slips included, which can help to protect your slides.
Another great option for beginners are “prepared slides.” These slides have a variety of specimens already placed within them, ranging from vegetables to flowers to animal tissues. We carry a 48 piece set and a 100 piece set of prepared slides, which are nice to have when you want something ready-for-study without a lot of prep work.
However, if you’d rather have the “full experience” and gather specimens yourself, there’s plenty of ways to do just that:
Where Can I Find Specimens to Study?
One of the best things about amateur microscopy as a hobby is that you can find specimens to study just about anywhere you look. Once you get started, you’ll find yourself constantly wondering, “I wonder what that looks like under my microscope.”
A great place for beginners to find specimens is right in their own back yard. Leaves, insects, rocks, minerals, and other easily found objects are all wonderful ways of getting acquainted with your microscope.
After a while, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself becoming interested in taxonomy—which is the science of classification. In other words, the hobby will naturally lead you toward the desire to properly identify the things you’re looking at. Experienced microscopists can look at a specimen under a slide and know exactly what it’s a smaller part of, even though individually the subject would be far too small to identify by eyesight alone.
We believe that one of the most rewarding organisms to classify are mushrooms, and specifically, mushroom spores.
Mushroom Spores: Why They’re Such a Great Subject for Microscopists
Mushroom spores, whether they’re medicinal mushroom spores or exotic psilocybin mushroom spores, are one of the most fascinating specimens you can get under your microscope for a variety of reasons: the beauty of their microstructures, the fact that they’re a living organism, and the sheer variety available.
Neither fruit nor vegetable, fungi are in a class of their own. These fascinating organisms are rapidly growing, edible in some cases and poisonous in others, have been on our planet far longer than we have, and—as you may know—can sometimes contain psychoactive compounds which have been the source of spiritual awakenings, legal debates, and social movements.
Needless to say, mushrooms are fascinating, and we’ll be examining them in more detail in part two of this series. In the meantime, however…
Additional Resources for Further Reading About Amateur Microscopy and Mushroom Spores
Before reading part two of this series, you may want to brush up on some of the additional resources we’ve made available here at Quality Spores.
To learn more about microscopy and why the study of mushroom spores is an important field of scientific research, please see our article Mushroom Spores & Microscopy Research. You can also read more about microscopy as a hobby in our article Amateur Microscopy.
There’s a lot more to learn, so we’ll see you in part two!