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3 Using a Microscope to Study Mushrooms ination, but confident identification of mushrooms usually requires a microscope. Besides, microscope work can be fun and rewarding. Most of the techniques required are not that difficult to learn, and a decent used microscope can often be picked up for under $300. The best part (if you are as obsessed with mushrooms as we are) is that you can spend quality time with your little fungal friends in the off season. Studying mushrooms with microscopy takes lots of practice, but new frontiers open up at each level. Beginners will find that simply looking at a mushroom ’s spores is fascinating and helps substantially in the identification process. More advanced microscope skills lead not only to facilitated identification but sometimes to stunning views and gorgeous microstructures . Equipment To study mushrooms, you’ll need a pretty good microscope . The many microscopes in people’s basements and closets—forgotten gifts to twelve-yearolds whose enthusiasm dwindled a few weeks after Christmas—are usually toys, great for looking at hair follicles and the like but usually not powerful enough to help you study mushrooms. Some of the larger microscopic structures of mushrooms can sometimes be Microscopic examination of mushrooms is often essential in the identification process. Because field guides often ignore this reality or treat microscope work as an unfortunate and tedious affair, we wanted to break the mold and encourage you to explore mushroom microscopy. It is true that most of the mushrooms in this book can be at least tentatively identified without recourse to microscopic examCystidia of Hohenbuehelia angustata (p. 205) 17 Using a Microscope to Study Mushrooms seen with these “garage-sale microscopes,” however, and if you’d like to whet your appetite, we recommend trying to view the microstructures of morels (pp. 277–80) by slicing a thin section from the surface of a mature morel’s pits and using a tap-water mount (equipment required: garage-sale microscope, slide, cover slip, sharp razor blade, tap water, morel). But if you want to go beyond having a little fun just seeing some of the larger microscopic features of mushrooms, you will need a microscope with an oil immersion lens that is capable of magnifying things about 1,000 times. The eyepiece of the microscope will need to have an ocular micrometer in it so that you can measure things. You will want an electric light source, controls to move the stage (the platform that holds the slide) mechanically, and a fine-focus knob (not just a single, coarse-focus knob). You could buy a new microscope, of course. However, a used microscope will work perfectly well, assuming it’s in good condition. You might want to try shopping for one online, but we suspect that your best bet is to contact someone in one of the life science departments at a local university or community college. Former Biology 101 microscopes are not too hard to get hold of, and they are often dirt cheap in comparison to new equipment. You will also need some of the obvious microscope equipment—slides, cover slips, extra bulbs, lens paper, and immersion oil—as well as some very sharp razor blades and some chemicals (see at right). Slides and cover slips are available from many sources. If you are an online shopper, try one of the many scientific equipment sites on the Internet. Your experience and preferences will dictate what kinds of slides and cover slips you need. Glass cover slips are wonderful but expensive and easily broken. You will need lens paper to clean your oil immersion lens after each use. If you cannot find lens paper online, try your local camera shop or your optometrist. Immersion oil can be purchased online as well. Calibrating a Microscope The little ruler in the eyepiece of your microscope is divided up evenly into units, but those units do not necessarily correspond to anything in particular. Thus you will need to compare the units on your microscope ’s ruler to the units on a special slide (called a stage micrometer) that has known values on it. Most microscopic mushroom measurements are expressed in “micrometers,” also called “microns.” One micrometer is equal to 0.001 millimeter; the symbol for a micrometer is µm. Calibrating your microscope is simply the process of comparing your microscope’s units to the predetermined units on a special slide. Borrow the stage micrometer slide, if possible; you won’t need to calibrate your microscope more...


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