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Colonies of Molds: The Different Kinds of Mold Under the Microscope

Looking at mold under the compound light microscope can be a challenging science microscope lesson for kids and students. Molds are a type of fungi that has more than one cell in its filaments, which are called hyphae. A connected network of these hyphae has identical nuclei and are called mycelium or a colony. A ‘runner’ could branch out from one of the mold’s filament junctions and start a new colony. With this in mind, it’s not too hard to think of molds easily covering the whole surface of the world, right? And yet molds are so small they appear to be cottony substances that form on damp things that are left in dark places for long periods of time. Looking at the mold under the compound light microscope will help the student or child to better understand the structure of the mold and how it can propagate so quickly.

But aside from the common bread mold, which is the most easily found and likely to be studied under a student microscope, there are other types of mold that you could find at home as well. Let’s try looking at what they are and where it is possible to spot them to gather for microscopic examination.

The easier way to tell molds apart with the naked eye is by color. The common bread mold mentioned earlier is white in color and belongs to the genus Rhizopus in taxonomic grouping. Rhizopus is the Latin word for ‘root-footed’, because this kind of mold has what you can call ‘walking’ roots. Molds can’t manufacture their own food, so they steal the nutrients they need from what is already prepared in the surface that they take root in. That is the difference between the usual fungi and the plants. Plants have chlorophyll which is an important substance in the process of making food. This is also why plants are green in color while most fungi are not.

Another kind of mold is the black mildew or the Aspergillus. This mold grows on the surface of cloth that had been stored or left a long time in a damp place. So be sure to air out your clothes before putting them away since the Aspergillus can ‘eat’ away at the cloth it takes root in. If you find this kind of black mold, don’t miss the opportunity to look at it under the student microscope. You will notice that there are brush-like things that sprout from the end of its filaments. These are actually sporangiums or spore buds, which sprinkles spores all over the air to help the mold propagate.

Blue-green mold is a species of Penicillium which you can usually find in fruits like oranges or jams. One strain of this mold actually produces a superior type of penicillin. Some pharmaceutical labs grow a large number of this mold and extract the penicillin for the medicine. Penicillin is called such because its structure looks like a paint brush if you look at it under a student microscope. Another type of mold can be grown off from dead flies. Place a moist sponge in a jar and put some dead flies inside. Wait for a whitish growth to appear on the flies and mount some of the mold onto a blank microscope slide. Molds that grow on dead things are called Saprolegnia (Sapro means rotten in Latin). Saprolegnia spread by spores that have thread-like tails that enables them to ‘swim’ through water. There are other water-borne types of mold that can attach itself to a fish, which may result to the death of its fish host. Air-borne type molds depend on the wind to bring it the nutrients that it needs to grow.

Molds have a film around them that can’t be penetrated by water, so in preparing a wet mount of molds on a blank microscope slide, make sure to put in a mixture of water and alcohol in with your mold sample. Alcohol will help refract the light coming from under the microscope stage less and make the image you will see through the microscope lens clearer. There are so many other types of molds, and thousands of fungi to choose from that you might be daunted by the sound of their names at first. Most of them have been named after the characteristics that scientists have seen on them through the optical microscope, though, so it would be easier to remember what molds or other fungi are called once you have seen them under the microscope for yourself.

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