When you’re just starting out as an amateur microscopist, there’s a lot to learn. Sometimes, terms, jargon, and certain topics can feel overwhelming—especially if you have an interest in focusing your efforts on studying psilocybin mushroom spores. This area of the microscopy hobby has a long history with many different voices offering their opinions and advice. But where do you start?

A good place to begin is by learning the very crucial difference between a species and a strain. Not all “magic” mushrooms are made alike. As you’ll soon learn, they all have different characteristics that become apparent when you work with them in the lab and during your study sessions.

First, we’ll lay a little groundwork by explaining the taxonomic ranks (and, specifically, what rank a species falls under). Then, we’ll talk a bit about magic mushroom species. Finally, we’ll discover what a strain is and detail some of the more popular psilocybin mushroom spore strains, and how they became so famous.

Remembering the Taxonomic Ranks

To understand what a species is, you may have to think back to the biology class you took as a kid. As you might recall, all living things are classified into what are called taxonomic ranks—that’s where the term “taxonomy” comes from, which essentially means “the science of classification.”

There are eight major taxonomic ranks. They are:

  • Domain
  • Kingdom
  • Phylum (or sometimes division in the botanical and mycological sciences)
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genus
  • Species

If anything, the taxonomic ranks illustrate the great diversity of life on our planet. How lucky we are to be here to experience them all!

As you can see, species is the most granular of the major taxonomic ranks. For example, Psilocybe cubensis is a popular species of psilocybin-containing fungi. It is a member of the genus Psilocybe, which is in the family Hymenogastraceae, which is in the order Agaricales of the class Agaricomycetes, which falls under the division Basidiomycota in the kingdom Fungi.

Whew—that’s a lot of classification going on there!

The good news is that to be a successful amateur microscopist you don’t necessarily have to memorize too much. If you’re focusing on researching Psilocybe fungi, there are plenty of species and strains to keep you busy for a lifetime.

Which brings us to our next point: what’s a strain?

What’s the Difference Between a Species & a Strain?

A strain is a genetic variant of a certain species. It can be thought of as further granularity within the taxonomic ranks—a subtype.

For example, Golden Teacher, Penis Envy, and Creeper are all members of the Psilocybe cubensis species, but each are quite distinct.

Golden Teacher is known for having a lower psilocybin content than other cubensis (and for beginners, this can be desirable). In the wild, it has long winding stems and beautiful, wide, golden caps.

Penis Envy, on the other hand, is very different. In the wild, it has a thick stem and a bulbous cap, nowhere near as wide as a Golden Teacher—it also has a much higher psilocybin concentration at maturity.

Creeper is known for its ability in nature to colonize extremely quickly and offer observing mycologists excellent flushing potential. As a spore, it’s a hardy strain, making it well resistant to contamination.

The point is that as an amateur microscopist, seeing the precursors to these natural properties in the fungi’s spore stage of development can be interesting indeed!

Also, take note that all these fungi are from the same species, but they’re very different. There’s an incorrect notion in the microscopy and mycology communities that “a cube is a cube” (or in other words, that all Psilocybe cubensis are basically the same). Nothing could be further from the truth!

Other Members of the Psilocybe Genus Commonly Called “Magic Mushrooms”

Amanita muscaria magic mushrooms
Note that other genera of fungi may contain psychedelic compounds but are not members of the Psilocybe genus; pictured, for example, is Amanita muscaria, which doesn’t contain psilocybin. Instead, this fungi has the psychoactive components ibotenic acid and muscimol.

There are, of course, many other species of Psilocybe other than Psilocybe cubensis. The reason cubensis is so popular is because of its ease to work with in the lab—it’s much easier to place under your microscope than many other species—and its general wide availability.

Other common psilocybin-containing species such as Psilocybe azurescens, Psilocybe semilanceata, Psilocybe mexicana and more all have their own unique characteristics. You can learn more about these species in our article How to Identify Psilocybin Mushrooms.

What are the Best Magic Mushroom Spore Strains?

There is no “best” Psilocybe cubensis strain—it really comes down to your preference as an amateur microscopist. Are you very confident working in the lab and could thus handle a more delicate spore strain, or do you want to work with one that’s very resistant to contamination? Do you want an explosively potent studying experience, or one that’s rather mild and easygoing?

The answers to these questions will lead you to eventually finding your favorite strain. If you’re just starting out, we suggest anything in our Beginner Microscopist category. You can never go wrong with Golden Teacher, B+, or KSSS.

How to Study Exotic Mushroom Spores as an Amateur Microscopist or Mycologist

The amateur microscopy and mycology communities have quite a lot of overlap these days—it’s because mushroom spores are one of the most fascinating things to put under the microscope. And as a mycologist, the value of understanding the formative stages of fungi cannot be overstated. Plus it’s fun!

Quality Spores serves both communities by offering always-uncontaminated, viable, and authentic psilocybin mushroom spores. (If this is news to you, see our article Why Are Magic Mushroom Spores Legal?.)

Whether you’re looking for Golden Teacher or something even more exotic like Albino Penis Envy, we’re here to empower your education. If you’d like to start exploring this wonderful hobby now, please feel free to start shopping—but if you want more information before you start, we encourage you to continue browsing our regularly updated blog, The Psilocybe Philosophy.

Thanks for reading and see you next week!