Best Microscopes for Koi, Ponds & Fish Disease 2019

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Guide to the Best Microscopes for Koi, Ponds & Fish Disease 2019 (Reviews)

Our garden ponds may seem like a pretty obvious world with fish and plants and maybe a turtle or a few newts, but what we rarely see is the incredibly bio-diverse microscopic worlds within our pond.  Microscopes help us to peer further into this unique, thriving little aquatic world. With them, we can see helpful protozoans, harmful ciliated protozoa that infect fish skin and gills, protistan parasites, and even incredibly important diatoms that are responsible for producing over 20% of the world’s oxygen!

Since we all place such a great deal of time, effort, and – likely – money into our ponds, why not learn as much as we can about it while we’re at it?

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Why Use Microscopes For Koi, Fish & Ponds – What Are the Benefits?

1) Water Quality Evaluation

Using a microscope you can inspect deeper aspects of water quality, and learn about good and bad bacteria.

As mentioned above, a microscope will allow you to see not only potential parasites, but also helpful bacteria that aid in water purification, as well as diatoms that consume loads of carbon dioxide and other pollutants while generating a great deal of dissolved oxygen. By using a microscope, you will be able to see and assess pond water yourself, thus not only learning more about your pond but also discovering for yourself how healthy your water is without bringing in a professional that could cost significant money, or relying on test strips or test kits that can only give you limited information


2) Fish Health & Disease Identification

The parasite Ich. Photo by Andy Goodwin/USFWS. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

With a microscope, you’ll be able to identify whether certain diseases or illnesses are present in your pond. For example, if you happen to find Ichthyophthirius multifiliis in your pond, your fish are either about to or are already developing white spot disease as this microscopic creature is what’s responsible for ich. As far as protozoans go, Ichthyophthirius m. is large and fairly easy to find and identify under a microscope, even for a novice. You’ll then have the ability to be proactive and treat the parasites before they have a chance to colonize too heavily in your pond and make your fish ill.


3) Soil Quality Evaluation

Soil around a pond can negatively impact water quality, causing algae blooms and nutrient build up.

The soil within and near your pond as quite a lot to do with your pond’s health. If there are too many nutrients in your soil, such as an excess of phosphorous, these can leach into your pond and promote the growth of unwanted algae species, as well as deplete dissolved oxygen levels. You would also be able to see fecal bacteria, deposited by nearby animals, that could make their way into your pond and potentially make your fish ill.

These bacteria, if present, are typically found in the topsoil (the topmost couple of inches of ground) and the surface layer of water. Take samples from these locations if you’re looking to assess bacteria species. If you have a garden and use fertilizers, and/or live near a farm or agricultural fields, assessing soil quality is a useful pursuit to help understand and reduce runoff of excess nutrients and pollutants into your pond.


4) Aquatic Plant Identification 

Microscopes can help identity very similar aquatic plants, such as roundleaf and Canada goldenrods.

Microscopes are fantastic for identifying tricky plant species that aren’t easy to tell apart with the naked eye. Plant anatomy is incredibly intricate, and oftentimes species cannot be differentiated without a closer, much more detailed look. With a microscope, you’ll be able to see the structures within the plant such as stamens, the ovary and enclosed ovules, any “hairs” present in various areas of the plant, and measure the exact length of petioles, leaf margins, and sepals – all of which can differ minutely from plant to plant, and any of which can tell you whether a plant is, say, a Canada goldenrod or a roundleaf goldenrod.

In addition to identifying plants, a microscope will allow you to become more familiar with them in general, learn all manner of new things, and explore just how complex these seemingly “simple” living things are.


Considerations When Choosing Microscopes for Koi, Ponds & Fish

1) Microscope Magnification Specs

Magnification is important, and most scopes between 400x and 1000x will be more than sample for pond owners.

Really, a fairly basic microscope is all that you’ll need as a casual pond hobbyist or koi owner. The  power should be 400x or above, with an ocular lens with at least 10x magnification, a light bulb rather than a mirror to provide illumination (a mirror may impact how well you can see organisms, or the accuracy with which they appear), and rotating subjective lenses that can alternate between magnification powers of 40x, 100x, and 400x.

Larger organisms such as Ichthyophthirius m. and flukes should be able to be seen under a magnification of 40x, while some diatoms (as well as most other types of algae) may need a magnification of 100x, and bacteria, being quite tiny, will need a magnification of 400 to 1,000x in order to be seen. With that being said, bacteria are often incredibly difficult to identify even for professional biologists, so don’t make being able to see these little guys your main consideration when purchasing a microscope for pond or soil use.


2) Price (Avoid Cheap Scopes!)

You get what you pay for, so you shouldn’t skimp out with a cheap microscope. With that being said, microscopes meeting the specs above can be found for around for as low as $100-$300 (which is quite affordable for a microscope!). Though it shouldn’t be necessary, you can opt for a higher powered (and thus, more expensive) microscope if you have the money and intend to make pond microscopy a serious hobby!


3) Design, Adjustability & Features

You don’t need a professional scope, but features such as full adjustability, slides/clips and LED illumination are a must.

You’re going to want a microscope that’s fully adjustable – the nose piece should be adjustable, as should the width and height of the eye lenses. The stage should also be mobile so that you can move it up or down to better focus on things. You’re much less likely to actually use your microscope if it doesn’t conform to your face comfortable, or in such a way that you can see through the scope easily. In addition, make sure that there are storage clips to hold the slide in place! Without these, your slide is likely to move around a bit, making it more difficult to find and focus on specimens.

You can opt for a microscope that moves the slide for you via rotating a knob, but this isn’t necessary. Keep in mind that if you must manually move slides, do so very carefully – any fingerprints or oils will make it more difficult to see and properly identify specimens. Again, you’ll want a microscope that illuminates specimens with a light bulb rather than a mirror. A fully adjustable light is also a must – you’ll want to be able to start off on the dimmest light setting, as contrast will better showcase specimens. Then you can increase the light as needed.


4) Compound Vs Dissecting Mircosopes

Compound (left) and dissecting (right) microscopes. Photo by Sarah Greenwood. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

The type of microscope that you get depends on what exactly you want to look at. For observing things like plants or larger organisms like insects or even small bones, a dissecting microscope is best. Looking at bacteria, small parasites, or individual cells of algae and the like requires a compound microscope.

The primary difference between the two is that dissecting microscopes are meant for looking at things, while compound microscopes look through things to better view features such as individual cells. Dissecting microscopes are lit from above, to better illuminate distinguishing features to better identify particular species, while compound microscopes are lit from below so that the light can shine through specimens and allow you to see inside of them. As looking at plants and bones likely isn’t your primary reason for wanting a microscope for your pond, you’re going to likely be best served by a compound microscope as opposed to a dissecting one.


Best Microscope for Koi, Ponds, Aquariums & Fish 2019 (Reviewed & Compared)

Best Budget & Beginner Mircoscope

1) Amscope 40X-1,000X Review

With a plethora of models available, Amscopes are a favorite of labs, schools, and ponders alike. There are binocular and monocular options, with binocular microscopes having a wider field of view given there are two eye pieces rather than only one.

For general pond use, either option will work just fine. Amscopes range greatly in price with monocular scopes of course being cheaper but still of excellent quality.

The Amscope 40X-1,000X is considered an entry model, and has both top and bottom LED lights (meaning that it functions as both a compound and a dissecting microscope), and has received solid reviews from students, universities, and laymen alike. Its weight is about 5 pounds, making it a moderately heavy microscope – this seems only a small encumbrance as it functions as both a compound and dissecting microscope. Although it does not offer the sheer magnification capacity of the more expensive models, it’s perfectly viable for casual hobbyist usage for koi, parasites or water quality!

Optical glass with adjustable LED lights
40X, 100X, 250X, 400X, and 1000X magnifications
Sturdy metal frame with coaxial coarse & fine focusing
Monocular, so no need to adjust eye or nose pieces
Fully adjustable deck and storage clips

Best Mid-Range Microscope

2) OMAX 40X-2000X Review

The Omax 40X-2,000X is a bottom lit LED compound microscope weighing in at only a pound (if you’ve ever used a microscope before, you know that they can be heavy!). It’s pricier than the first model, but this is because it comes with a built-in camera that’s compatible with most computers so that you can take and save pictures of your specimens for later. Windows systems aren’t as friendly with this camera, so Mac and Apple operating systems work best.

It also features twice the magnification range compared to the first model, allowing up to 2000x as per the specifications. Alongside, it also comes with a variable intensity LED transmitted illumination system for a crisper view of your specimens, and both coaxial coarse & fine focus knobs for the best adjustability while working.

Recommended for those looking for extra magnification for the smaller details, or those who would like more features and the ability to transfer and save data between devices. Great for koi, gills, parasites, bacteria and everything in between!

Eight level magnifications from 40X to 2000X
Sliding binocular viewing head
Two pairs of widefield eyepieces (WF10X, WF20X)
Large double layer mechanical stage with scale
Coaxial coarse & fine focus knobs
Built-in 1.3MP USB camera & very lightweight

Best High-end Microscope

3) AmScope B120C-E1 Review

The bigger brother to the first entry -level microscope! The AmScope B120C-E1 is a compound microscope that has quite similar features to the Omax talked about above. Its price is a little higher in comparison, and it comes with a mountable 1.3 MP camera that will allow you to look at specimens on your computer while they’re under the microscope (making them easier to assess than when looking through the ocular lenses), in addition to taking pictures of specimens.

It works well with most computer operating systems, but reviews seem to point to it working best with Windows, although Mac and Linux are also readily compatible. It’s able to magnify up to 2,500X, power that is rare in a “non-professional” microscope, or one in this price range. Everything is fully adjustable, although not all portions of this microscope are attached when delivered, so you’ll need to have some patience while attaching the objective lenses. It’s on the hefty side, weighing in at nearly 10 pounds.

Our recommended choice for pond owners looking for all the ‘bells and whistles’ of a professional scope at a great and affordable price-point!

High quality precise optical glass elements
40X, 100X, 250X, 400X, 1000X & 2500X magnifications
Coaxial coarse and fine focus adjustment
1.3MP digital camera
Stain-resistant double layer mechanical stage
Adjustable interpupillary & ocular diopter distance

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