Watch: Man Uses Thermal Camera to Find Morels

by Vern Evans

The debate over thermal optics has entered a new frontier: mushroom hunting

A morel mushroom on a normal camera and a thermal imaging camera.

The thermal imaging camera captures the cool air of the morel against a warmer backdrop. Photograph by Kyle Underwood / Instagram

Morels are one of the most widely desired and sought-after wild mushrooms in North America. Their unique shape and umami-rich, meaty flavor distinguish them from other species. Next-level mycological experts have figured out how to cultivate morels, and you can even buy them by the pound on Amazon. 

Naturally, people go a bit crazy over morels on social media, too. But things reached a head on Monday when Oklahoma-based wildlife photographer Kyle Underwood posted videos on his Instagram sharing what he called a “cheat code” to finding morels — a Seek thermal imaging camera that hooks up to his phone.

Thermal imaging cameras capture a scene’s infrared radiation and show the temperature of objects in that scene. For example, when Underwood held a morel in his hand and pointed the camera at it, the image that came back displayed his hand as black and the morel as bright white. The morel had a temperature of less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, while his hand was a standard body temperature of 98 degrees. (If you’re wondering what the differences between an infrared camera and a thermal camera are, keep in mind that all thermal cameras use infrared technology but not all infrared cameras are considered “thermal cameras.” Some infrared cameras are used instead for night vision or other applications.)

Morels and other fungi have significantly lower temperatures than their surroundings. Even in a natural setting, they might be up to 36 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the space around them. They give off cold, moist air through evaporation, which cools their immediate surroundings. That little cloud of cold air shows up on a thermal camera, as Underwood points out. 

But, because many people can’t keep their criticisms to themselves on the internet, Underwood came under fire in the comments sections of his videos. One commenter feared this could lead to the extinction of morels. (While fungi can go extinct, researchers aren’t particularly concerned about overharvest as a major threat to morels.) Another made a snarky comment about how people “used to find these mushrooms with their eyes.” 

Thermal optics are a divisive topic in the outdoors to begin with. Using the technology to hunt and recovering game is illegal in most states. (Listen to OL editor-in-chief Alex Robinson and hunting and optics editor Andrew McKean dive into this debate here.) But Underwood defends his “morel hack” in a separate video confronting angry followers.

“First of all, everyone has a right to their own opinion. And I love that. Glad to hear your opinions. But you do not need a thermal camera to find morels,” Underwood says. “I just so happened to get one for Christmas [from] my wife, and saw on the Internet one time that you can actually find morels using one, and hey, it works, whether you want to say it does or doesn’t.”

Read Next: 12 Tips for Finding More Morel Mushrooms This Spring

Underwood, whose profession as a wildlife photographer demands a keen eye to begin with, reminds critics that he wasn’t telling people to go out and buy a $200-plus thermal imaging camera and use it to mow down every morel they can find.

“You don’t have to use it, I’m not telling you to use it, I’m not telling you to buy one. I’m just letting you know that it does work and it’s pretty cool,” he continues. “Lotta negative people out there, but that’s fine … Thank you guys for watching and sharing my video. It’s almost got 100,000 views, so, just keep being negative I guess. Or don’t.”



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