An Endless Search for Wonder: Dr. Lori Tolley-Jordan

Dr. Lori Tolley-Jordan
Department of Biology

Intro to Biology students may forget her name, but they’ll always remember the Snail Lady. 

Invertebrates – spineless animals – make up 99 percent of all animals on Earth. Alabama is a particular paradise for researchers like Dr. Lori Tolley-Jordan, who completed her PhD at the University of Alabama in 2008 before joining the faculty at JSU in 2011. Her research focuses on freshwater ecology with a specialty in freshwater snail biodiversity.

Doctor Lori Tolley Jordan explores a creek with young students
"I was always fascinated by how many little critters I could see just by watching a small patch of flowers or looking under a dead log."

The Texas native has made Alabama home, in part, because it has the highest diversity of freshwater invertebrates in the world.

“In particular, JSU is located in an epicenter of diversity for freshwater snails and other inverts – like crayfish,” she said. “I can study all kinds of super cool invertebrates and creeks right in my backyard. When a position was posted for an invertebrate biologist in the Department of Biology at JSU, I jumped at the chance and was overjoyed when I was selected to become a member of the faculty.”

In May, Tolley-Jordan received JSU’s distinguished McCluer Scholar Award for her contributions to the academy. She shares her passion for research with students, conducting outside labs to expose them to environments they might have otherwise ignored. 

Doctor Lori Tolley Jordan“Sometimes, these students get hooked on studying invertebrates and bring me many specimens that I can add to my collection,” she said. “I am so fortunate because at JSU we still teach classes like entomology – the study of insects – invertebrate biology, and other classes with labs where I always have a captive audience to listen to me gush about invertebrates.”

Tolley-Jordan often incorporates her love of invertebrates into the introductory biology classes, particularly freshwater snails, hence her nickname – the Snail Lady.

She has never lost the child-like sense of excitement that came from discovering creepy crawlies. From bugs and slugs to worms and starfish, if it didn’t have a spine, Tolley-Jordan wanted to study it. 

“I was always fascinated by how many little critters I could see just by watching a small patch of flowers or looking under a dead log,” she said. “There is an endless diversity of animals to explore. I have studied invertebrates that live in creeks since 1995 and just never stopped flipping rocks to look for these spineless wonders.”  

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