Saturday, December 31, 2022

A Whole New World: Using a Portable Digital Microscope

At first glance, the image above looks like a picture of some unusual tropical fruits. But the fruit-like structures are actually spikelets of a Paspalum grass species (Paspalum laeve perhaps?), with diameters of just 2 mm! 

The spikelets are of course normally borne on flowerheads that rise up from the surrounding leaf blades, as shown in the image below.

The macro lens on my camera can certainly do better than our naked eye, showing the individual spikelets in nice detail, as in the in situ images below. At this level, one can clearly see the stigma and anthers coming out of the enclosing glume.

In situ pics of flowerhead of Paspalum sp using camera and macro lens

But for really close work I got a relatively inexpensive portable Jiussion Portable USB Microscope.

I have not tried it on the field with my cellphone (I can only imagine the nightmare of trying to focus and stabilize the contraption out in the field), but I have used it with my laptop at home, and the results are quite good. 

Fuzzy stigma peering out from the enclosing glume of the spikelets of Paspalum sp

After downloading the necessary Windows application and drivers, and connecting the microscope via USB to the laptop, I was able to easily take pics. 

The pictures are not as good as using the macro lens of course, but the magnification is much greater. My only complaint would be that the stand is somewhat flimsy and trying to focus and stabilize the entire contraption is a bit of a work.

Nevertheless, the device will allow me to view the spikelet parts in much greater detail, which will help in identification and usher in a new world of hidden wonders.

The microscope is available on Amazon for those who are interested.

Spikelets of Imperata cylindrica. Notice the long white hairs rising from the base which help in its spread.

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