Ginny B's picture


I am becoming increasingly frustrated at not being able to identify some of the lichens I’ve found. Having been told on more than one occasion that microscope work is needed for help in identification, I wonder if anyone could recommend a suitable one for me?

I know nothing about microscopes, about the magnification that would be required, or for that matter, even exactly what I’d be looking for. As a pensioner I don’t wish to spend a fortune but equally I would like one that isn’t such cheap quality that it would fall to pieces in next to no time.

Can anyone help please?




Amadan's picture

Microsopes -

As well as the lens power (I expect others can recommend the best for this work), the thing to decide is whether you want one that can accept a camera mount, or link to a computer. The ability to transfer images directly is extremely useful, but it adds to the cost!
You could try one of the second-hand lab equipment companies, if you live anywhere near one. It's very much a case of "buyer beware", though. For some years I kept a research project running, using Pye 104 chromatograph components from such a source. Being modular, it was easy to replace bits when they failed or became unsuitable, and they were very solidly built. But I ended up with my fair share of "duds"...

gardener's picture

Two needed

Unfortunately you'll need two - a dissecting microscope with magnification of 10-40x to see what you're doing when you cut sections from the apothecia and then a compound microscope with magnification of at least 400x to examine the spores.

For more information heres a link to the Microscope section in the revamped BLS website:

Ginny B's picture

Thank you, Jenny

Thank you, Jenny for your reply. Two...oh my! I see it's going to be a bit more expensive than I had originally thought. There will have to be a period of penny saving and requesting that any Christmas presents come in the form of cash that can be put towards microscopes. No rushing out tomorrow to buy!

That is a very helpful page on the BLS webpage. Thank you for the link. I've not yet applied to become a member of the BLS but very probably will in the new year. By that time I should have discovered whether my interest is of the lasting kind or not, but I think it is going to be!

Ginny B's picture

Thank you, Amadan

Thank you for you comments, Amadan. I hadn't thought about a camera mount or linking it to a computer, but can see the advantage of both.

I will do some investigation with regard to the possibility of a second-hand one, which might be a way of bringing the price down a bit even if there is a greater chance of its being a dud. Not sure where my nearest source would be, but will find out.

synan's picture

Choosing a microscope

Hi Ginny,

If you contact a microscope supplier with a good reputation and explain your requirements (lichenology: examination of apothecial sections and spores etc) and budget, they should hopefully point you in the right direction.

Two such companies are GX Optical and Brunel Microscopes (I have linked to their compound microscopes, but as Jenny says, you will also need a dissecting microscope aka stereomicroscope). There are other companies.

I purchased my compound from Brunel, who actually saved me money by dissuading me from going for a model that they explained was "very definitely more suited to a research laboratory than for amateur use".

As for the minimum specification needed, companies like these should be able to advise. It's a difficult call to make; naughty thoughts like "Hmm, if I spend a little bit more, I can have one that does THIS" can quickly inflate the price, so it's a case of either setting a budget* and being strict or deciding on a model and saving. A x100 (oil immersion) objective is useful for more accurate measurements of spores and examining paraphyses, photobiont cells, ascus structures and other licheny bits in more detail.

* If you do set a budget, factor in all the accessories needed.

I can't recommend a stereomicroscope, but lighting is an important consideration. I got mine second hand at auction from a forensic lab, and am lucky enough to have equipment in excellent condition that I wouldn't be able to afford new. I only wish it had a trinocular tube.

I too worried that my interest might wane after crippling my bank account, but the opposite is true. Microscopy has fuelled it further - but it has robbed me of the excuse I had for walking past dots-on-rocks lichens.


Ginny B's picture

Most helpful

Thank you so much for that most helpful post, Nigel. Lots of things for me to take into consideration, so I must go away and think about it all very carefully.

I have been amazed to find so many tiny and different lichens on one relatively small rock face and I would so much like to know what they all were.

Recently I have been looking lower down the shore for Collemopsidium foveolatum on barnacles, the tide being nice and low at the time I go for a walk that way. I think it is possible I may have found some, but I'm not sure. It is a devil to get a sharp photo of to post here and hopefully get confirmation.