What Taxa Should I Put Under a Dissecting Microscope?

I recently got a dissecting scope. Of course there’s tons of taxa that I could look at with it, but I’m wondering if there’s anything I should start with. I’m thinking that the best groups would be those that are impossible to ID to species without a scope, but pretty easy to differentiate with one. Anyone know of any taxa that fit that criteria, of any others worth checking out under the scope?

Beetles would be a good idea for a start. Depending on where you live there may be good identification keys using characters well visible under a dissecting microscope.
I’d recommend specializing into one taxon eventually.


Most insect taxa can benefit from a look through a microscope in order to ID them. If you are feeling ambitious, you could learn to dissect moth genitalia! One drawback is that many small details needed for species identification require a dead, preserved specimen (it’s hard to see fly bristles or count tarsi on a moving insect). So for insects, you would need to kill and properly preserve them. It may also be a good thing to invest in at least one pair of fine tipped forceps.
I would be interested to know where you got the microscope!

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Beaksedges (Rhynchospora) are perfect for dissecting scope observations. The ID keys are mostly based on features of the tiny achenes, which you can barely make out with a hand lens. And they are beautiful!

Just remember to get a photo in the field to record the collecting locality.


Got any specific beetle families in mind? I’d prefer to not collect those that are easily IDable without a microscope (such as cerambycids and coccinelids), since a normal photo would work fine for ID. And I’m in southern Ontario, so theres probably some good keys for the species in the area.

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I do plan to get forceps soon, they’d be a lot less of a mess than tweezers or my massive human fingers. Are there any specific groups of moths that you recommend dissecting? Most noctuids, erebids, and other physically larger families are pretty IDable without a microscope, so I’m thinking maybe the little guys make better specimens?

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Unfortunately it looks like that genus is very uncommon in my area. I’ll definitely keep watch for them when outside my normal iNatting grounds, though

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Coleoptera: Carabidae.

Hymenoptera: Symphyta (Saflies) or Aculeata (Solitary Wasps and Bees)

Heteroptera: True Bugs and Cicadellidae

Isopoda: Woodlice

Just a few to start with.

That’s why I want a dissecting microscope. I used a dissecting microscope in college to ID saltwater amphipods. I’d like to learn about the freshwater ones in the lake by my house.


Freshwater Bryozoa are attractive to watch live. I don’t know how difficult they are to identify in your part of the world or if there is a key to them.

Moss :)


While one can possibly identify Drosophila melanogaster without a microscope, it was fascinating to look at fruit flies under a microscope to identify if they had bar eyes, vestigial wings, e.t.c, from my university’s Genetics Lab course. This reminds me, I should have the lab manual for fruit fly identification somewhere in my apartment.

Mosses are certainly cool to look at under dissecting scopes, but to use most identification keys you’d also need a compound scope to look at even finer details.

Dissecting scopes are great for helping to identify grasses and sedges. Most of the angst that people feel about trying to identify these groups just comes from how small the diagnostic characters can be.


There are a number of Noctuid “complexes” that can use dissection. Xestia dolosa/c-nigrum is the first that comes to mind. Feltia subgothica/tricosa, just about any Euxoa spp. However, most observations are pictures, so …
EDIT - I don’t know how to do this personally, so you would have to get details from texts or other users.


What interests you? Microleps? Pseudoscorpions? Collembola?

True, although in the case of many grasses, once you have keyed it out, you can do pretty well by sight from then on, e.g. Festuca perennis, Phleum pratense, Taeniatherum caput-medusae. These are weedy species, so you are unlikely to find look-alikes in the areas where you find these.

Whereas the three arthropod groups I mentioned, you can’t really ever get to the point of IDing by sight without the scope, even after keying out many.

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Yes, moss. The park where I work has a plant list of several hundred vascular plants and almost no moss because no one IDs them. I just brought scope up there so I can figure out what mosses we have. Then on to lichens.


I completely agree with you, i also prefer to take pictures.
I am especially into Curculionoidea, they are hard to identify from a picture, and some species even need to be dissected to look at the genitalia. You can find them everywhere by beating them from plants using a frisbee. Make sure to record the hostplant, it may reveal new information or make identification easier.
Also good would be any saproxylic beetle, you may find a diverse fauna of them unter the bark of dead wood.

I dont know about how well covered the US are in terms of keys and literature, but i think ground beetles would be a good start as well, i am sure there are keys for them.

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BTW, my suggestions are not intended to dismiss other taxa. They are just what I am interested in. I don’t know which taxa you prefer to identify.