MicMOSScropy mania

I never paid too much attention to mosses in the past, but I recently acquired a microscope and have since gone mad with power.

As I attempt to identify my finds, with varying amounts of success, I’ve come to realize just how poorly-documented mosses are in general, and on iNaturalist in particular. The majority of “identified” moss observations on the site seem to be blatantly mis-applied computer vision suggestions from about a dozen species.

If anyone has a microscope and would like to join me in solving this problem, I’d love to hear from you.
The goal:
To create detailed photos of the microscopic features of as many moss species as possible, both to document their presence and to assist future observers by providing examples of what kinds of pictures are actually needed in order to get most mosses to species.

You don’t need to be able to travel or even go past your front gate - mosses from the crack in the sidewalk or the damp spot where the gutter leaks are just as welcome as from anywhere else.

I’m starting off with Mosses of California as my guidebook, and trying to find/identify as many of the species they feature as a starting point.
I’ve created a project for this if anyone else would like to contribute. https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/micmosscropy


Have you thought of making a guide with these observation later? :slightly_smiling_face:

Once I feel like I’ve actually figured out what I’m doing, maybe!


i was looking at this microscope the other day (since i was seeing ads for it while browsing the web): https://www.discover-echo.com/revolve. probably overkill, right?


Well if I ever win the lottery that’s going on my wishlist haha. Until then, I’m just going to have to make do with the $80 compound scope I got off amazon!

Dissecting is probably better than compound, but I’m not sure how the cheap models compare. Here’s some related comments:

I have taken some shots of moss under my scope but don’t really have a clue of what to photograph.


On iNat you spend practically hours on gathering, sorting, microscoping and trying to id them, but they won’t get any attention, unless you really know them it’s impossible to learn hard species here as there’re no people to check if you’re right ot wrong.


Great idea, @graysquirrel, and I’m glad you are doing microscopy and posting it. I’ve been doing this with Sphagnum mosses and have over 300 observations posted with microscopic images. Nearly all are identified to species, but many aren’t seconded yet. I also made a project of other people’s Sphagnum observations “with slides,” though this also includes non-slide observations by the same people. The project is
and my Sphagnum observations ​(mostly with slides) are
I will try to add some of the RG ones to your project.


I have no idea in which world the posters in this tread are living but I am happy with the few people who review my sightings of mosses very fast (during the lockdown of covid) last year…

aha- hard species- that is correct. But as an amateur I prefer the easy ones…

In a world with no local experts? And no accessible guides created in this century.


It’s a great idea!

I spent a few years taking classes about mosses and going on moss walks with mentors. I eventually made a list of mosses in my area that can be identified from 10 feet away, from 2 feet away, with an ordinary macro lens, with a clip-on phone lens, and those that need microscopic views, and what views they need (like the shape of alar cells on leaves). It really helps to know which details you need to capture for each moss, and what kind of magnification you need. If you just try to shoot some images of lots of details through the microscope without knowing what you need, you may not get any closer to IDs than people using cell phones from 5 feet away. Best to start with the books and some mentors, learn the easy mosses first, then delve into greater details.

As for mosses on iNaturalist, the database generally does an OK job with the species that can be recognized from several feet away. The others, not so much. But in order to catch and fix the mistakes, you need to know those easy mosses first. Then when you see an ID for a blurry distant moss photo and you know that moss requires a microscope for ID, you can take the ID back to Mosses.


That’s the purpose of the project, I imagine! A few people with guides, time, and passion can try their best. Learning with an expert to help and correct you may be more efficient, but it’s better to try than to give up entirely.
I also think that if there is a passionate group of newbie moss lovers who are doing their best to be accurate and rigorous, it may attract professionals to join the community :3


I am not so familiar with iNaturalist, but Europe alone has 150.270 moss-observations, 953 moss-species and 19.742 moss-observers. I think the situation is not so bad at all in Europe. Or did I made a miscalculation somewhere?

I’ve always been a fan of the old Nikon H Field Microscope. Very rare now (they do turn up on eBay relatively often despite that), and expensive. These were once the top of the line in lab-grade microscopes that could be used in the field.

Nikon basically packed a high-end microscope into one of their small camera bodies back in the 60s. They had attachments for a camera (and the camera flash could even be used to illuminate the slide). Batteries for the internal light is ambient light isn’t enough, as well as a power adapter plug for use when electricity is around.

Crazy complicated internal optics and light path to keep the unit small and compact.

Massive overkill for pretty much anything most people have a use for, but very cool too.


I think it’s a great idea (I’ve added a few mosses with microscopy myself, but generally just for specific identifying features). It can be a tough group to navigate, especially the many pinnate pleurocarps in Amblystegiaceae, Hypnaceae, Brachytheciaceae, etc… for some reason, my favorite sorts of mosses. I’m only beginning to have the vaguest idea of what I’m doing in terms of understanding mosses and their identification and I’ve been dabbling in it since last year.

I have both a good dissecting scope and a decent compound scope (both dumpster-dived by faculty at some university decades ago when their labs got new equipment and then handed down to me) and I find the compound scope at 100x is very necessary in some groups.


Sure, that’s why I think it’s a valuable project!


@graysquirrel I noticed your camera for at least one of these was your phone. Are you using a phone add-on to snap your phone to the microscope?

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Yeah, I got a phone holder that snaps onto the microscope. I got this microscope: https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B00AM5XB5O
Since it’s monocular, it works pretty well with the phone camera. My eyes aren’t great for looking into scopes, I get eyestrain pretty fast, so I just hook up the phone and view everything on the screen instead.

I’m sure it’s not the most amazing quality compared to some other stuff, but for an investment of less than $100 it’s not bad at all.

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Sounds great if it is working for you which is how it appears to me.

Just some tips that might help others. You may do this already but if you find your phone searching for the focus which is something it can do if there are different focal planes, and if you can do this, put the phone camera in manual focus and set it to infinity or the mountains icon - the microscope is now your lens - focus the objective lens looking through your phone screen to the plane you want.

You can also get rid of the vignette by zooming digitally in a little -maybe 2 or 2.4x.

I also heard that some use verbal trigger to catch the image by saying something like cheese - this can get rid of any movement your hand may cause on the image.

And I know this is something that you are not using but as they say at the Louvre…no flash. The light on my dissecting scope is horrible but I can compensate by using a desktop microphone holder I purchased from our music store to hold one of my newer usb charged LED flashlights (which also has a UV setting). I use this flashlight set up also to side illuminate my holding tank when I go solo pelagic/benthic night lighting marine life.


I think the magnification of a dissecting microscope is insufficient for the shapes of some of the cells. I tried to photo the detail of a moss a few weeks ago https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/104603259 but I did not succeed in cutting a thin enough specimen. still, I hope I managed to get the picture of the correct cells, but a strong magnification is necessary. This is how it looks for those who can do it properly https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c0/Polytrichastrum_formosum_(g%2C_144932-481517)_3304.JPG

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