Lea Shell

About Lea Shell

Lea Shell is an entomologist and educator who devotes her time convincing others just how wonderfully important insects and microbes are to our lives. She enjoys playing with slime mold, ants, GPS units, climate loggers and interviewing scientists about their middle school experiences.

Getting Sourdough on the Map

A quick update on the Sourdough Project! We are currently up to 300 samples (and counting) and we’ve got a fantastic team of undergraduates working on processing and characterizing our samples:  Kinsey Drake, Nick Kamkari, and Shravya Sakunala.

Kinsey has made a map of our where the starters we currently have (red) and those we are awaiting (blue) based on participants who have filled out the questionnaire.

Tufts undergraduate Kinsey Drake wearing a while lab coat and purple gloves working at the bench in the Wolfe lab. […]

By | February 20th, 2017|Behind the Scenes, Sourdough|12 Comments

What’s your flour type?

Nick Kamkari, Tufts undergraduate, plates out different commercial flours in the Wolfe Lab.

The Wolfe lab has been working to pinpoint just what makes sourdough starters so magical. It turns out that each flour has its own microbial “signature.” Tufts undergraduate Nick Kamkari has been plating out and characterizing different brands of-off-the shelf flours to learn more about what we should expect to find in each starter fed by that flour, to better be able to pinpoint what are the extra (delicious) microbes that make the starters successful. Above is a visual of what […]

By | February 20th, 2017|Behind the Scenes, Sourdough|1 Comment

The Wild Lives of Gutters

As a rule of thumb, we like to assume that if a surface exists, there’s something (or many things) living on it. These “things” are microscopic organisms – bacteria, fungi, protists, and even archaea – and they’re all very hard at work turning dead things anew into life, or even turning the nutrients in air into bits and pieces of their cells. We smell the presence of these workings, but forget to consider the thriving life forms it bespeaks.

By | February 9th, 2017|Projects|2 Comments

Sourdough Stories: Patty Ellis

We will begin a series of sourdough stories wherein we highlight the oral history that accompanies many different sourdough starters. For many, this starter becomes a part of the family. It requires a place to go and be fed when its humans are away; be it a family member, house sitter or a sourdough hotel. Some feel a connection to past generations through the taste, method and baking; breaking bread that was passed down generations, traveled across countries and tested through time. 


When Patty Ellis happened upon her mother’s old bread bowl in the cupboard, she was reminded […]

By | October 3rd, 2016|Sourdough|4 Comments

They Are The Most Harmless, Innocent Creatures In The World.

[Every now and then we receive very special messages from folks who have read our blog, found our research or just share the same curiosity for life’s under appreciated creatures.

Thank you, G, you know who you are. Keep them coming. 

From the Your Wild Life mailbag:]

I Was Just Reading An Article About Camel Crickets On The Internet.
This Article Encourages People (such as myself) Who Have Had Them In Their Home To Share Their Experiences.

As It Just So Happens, I Have Had Them In My Basement For Years.

There Is Plenty I Could Tell You About Them.

For Now, Let Me Just Say That […]

By | May 13th, 2016|Camel Crickets|2 Comments

The Arthropods of San Francisco (and beyond)

What’s that crawling under your bed… sitting in your light fixture… lurking in your cabinets? Perhaps it’s a new insect species! The Arthropods of Our Homes project has expanded beyond Raleigh — to San Francisco, and from there all seven continents will be sampled for the common arthropods in homes. Watch the video to see more about the arthropods found in San Francisco homes as well as some familiar faces (Matt Bertone and Michelle Trautwein).

“Other than a few pest species, we know very little. There’s still a lot to discover… You don’t have to be an […]

12 Questions from students about the (Wild) Life of Our Bodies

Today we have a special Q & A from Kelly Allen and her East Chapel Hill HS Biology II (Human Biology) students. Each year Allen’s students participate in Biology Book Clubs and this year they read Rob Dunn’s The Wild Life of Our Bodies. Without further ado, questions asked by high school juniors and seniors to Rob Dunn:  

Amanda: Why did humans lose their ability to detect who a person is by their scent, while other primates and mammals still are able to do so?  Since its something needed for survival, I would have thought that our ability to smell would have improved, so […]

By | May 18th, 2015|Belly Button Biodiversity, Q & A, Your Mites|1 Comment

Tracking Kleptomaniac Cats

Aya the cat has an interesting secret life, to say the least. When we started tracking outdoor cats with Cat Tracker in Raleigh/Durham to see where they were going when they weren’t lazily sitting on their human’s porches… we never expected that one of the cats that would sport a GPS unit would be a famous kleptomaniac living in Copenhagen.

Three-year-old Aya is a Danish cat; a semi-serious looking black male cat with a penchant for work gloves. It all started innocently enough in the Summer of 2012 — when Aya’s human neighbors were getting a new roof […]

By | April 16th, 2015|Cat Tracker|3 Comments

Students share eMammal!

On Thursday, March 5, eight middle school students from the classrooms of two 2014-2015 Students Discover Kenan Fellows, Dave Glenn and Dayson Pasion, presented their research on wildlife camera-trapping at the North Carolina Technology in Education Society (NCTIES) conference in Raleigh.

Over the last year, the students have participated in the eMammal citizen science project, deploying wildlife cameras in their schoolyard to capture animal activity. The students have been working in collaboration with scientists at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. At Burgaw Middle School […]

By | March 23rd, 2015|Education, Urban Ecology|1 Comment

Dr. Eleanor Dishes about Ants!

Looking for a new podcast to listen to while waiting for the next season of Serial? Check out Under The Microscope — available for free on iTunes — where you can even hear a friendly voice, Dr. Eleanor Spicer-Rice, discuss ants with Daniel Hill and Clint Bergeron.

Under the Microscope

Ants, with Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice — Episode 3 

Released Feb 01, 2015

Join us as we chat with Senior Science Editor Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice (who literally wrote the book on ants!) about an invasive ant species with a powerful sting that could be making a destructive path to […]

By | March 18th, 2015|ants, Audio, Q & A|0 Comments

Help locate the coughing frog!

You may have heard of a newly described species of leopard frog, the Atlantic Coast leopard frog (Rana kauffeldi) — also known as the coughing frog (main image, above). The chief zoologist at the New York Natural Heritage Program, Dr. Matthew Schlesinger, has organized efforts to learn more about the range of this newly described frog species with the support of a Regional Conservation Needs grant.

Where is this coughing frog and when can I find it?

The map of where participants can hear and record the coughing calls of the Atlantic Coast leopard frog can be seen below […]

By | March 12th, 2015|Nature in Your Backyard, Participate|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Monica Peters

When I first met New Zealand native and science/artist Monica Peters, she was attending the Citizen Science Association meeting in San Jose, California. After her presentation she boldly stated, “Watch this space!” in reference to the growing citizen science initiatives in New Zealand. It was intriguing to learn about the efforts of citizen scientists in New Zealand communities to preserve their local natural habitats. She also stated that she had come from a design background, but has found herself in this scientific world. Wanting to hear more, I scheduled an interview and we got a chance to speak about […]

By | March 6th, 2015|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Mette Olufsen

Dr. Mette Olufsen found mathematics very easy in middle school and had an interest in biology. Yet, she never predicted that she would grow up to become a biomathematician, working in an interdisciplinary field that uses math to solve big biological questions. She describes a middle school experience that is very typical of Denmark in the 1970s: very free and focused on the importance of play and project-based learning, picking up three foreign languages, and adhering to the Jante Law.

Where were you in middle school?

I was in Denmark. We didn’t have middle school. We just had elementary school and […]

By | February 20th, 2015|Before They Were Scientists, Education|1 Comment

Our Bodies Are a Habitat

Thanks to PBS Digital Studios and YouTuber Coma Niddy we can now add face mites to the list of subjects featured in a science parody music video!

“You might not think you have mites. But you do! So face it, our bodies are a habitat!”

Head on over to Coma Niddy’s original post to read more about his experience meeting his face mites!

By | February 16th, 2015|Education, Video, Your Mites|0 Comments

Tracking Turtles with Juliana Thomas

“We were tracking turtles today!” Juliana Thomas immediately and enthusiastically tells me after I asked her how her day was going; “We’ve never tracked them during the winter before. We don’t know what they’re doing.” Her turtle earrings, almost a perfect tiny replicate of the Eastern Box turtle, sway side to side as she uses her hands to describe the work of her students.

Since 2007 (over eight years at the time of this writing) Juliana’s sixth graders, along with the Centennial Center for Wildlife Education, has been working to track Eastern Box turtles using non-invasive telemetric […]

By | February 9th, 2015|Education, Feature|0 Comments