An 8-year-old girl whose passion for bugs led to bullying at school is now a published author in a scientific journal.
"Bugs are just amazing,” Sophia Spencer said today on "Good Morning America." “People think that bugs may be creepy and bugs aren’t cool but bugs are cool.”
She added, "I just love bugs."
Sophia, of Sarnia, Ontario, gained the attention of entomologists around the world last year when her mom sent an email to the Entomological Society of Canada asking for a role model for her daughter.
"She told me she didn’t want to do it anymore," said Sophia's mom, Nicole Spencer, adding that Sophia would come home from school in tears after being teased. "I didn’t think it was right she would stop something she loved for so long just because she didn’t fit in with her classmates."
When the society tweeted Spencer’s plea for an entomologist to speak with Sophia, the tweet, with its #BugsR4Girls hashtag, went viral.
The society received more than 300 replies. Sophia is now pen pals with a handful of the entomologists who replied, and also emails with kids around the world who are also interested in bugs.
"Sophia just got her passion back," Spencer said. "Once we started getting the comments back, she said she’s not the weird one for liking bugs. She’s going to like bugs no matter what people think."
Sophia also connected with Morgan Jackson, a 33-year-old entomology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Guelph. Jackson is also a social media volunteer for the Entomological Society of Canada and the person who posted the tweet about Sophia.
“I could tell she was super enthusiastic and really curious about and keen about learning more about them,” Jackson told ABC News of his first Skype meeting with Sophia.
Jackson traveled to Sophia's house in June and the two went on a two-hour bug hunting expedition.
"I’ve never seen her so happy to have another bug person with her," said Spencer, who traces her daughter's love of bugs back to a visit to a butterfly conservatory when Sophia was 2.
A short time after meeting Sophia, Jackson was asked to contribute an article for the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. He asked Sophia to be his co-author.
The two share a byline in an article published in the journal this month entitled “Engaging for a Good Cause: Sophia's Story and Why #BugsR4Girls.”
“After my mom sent the message and showed me all the responses, I was happy. I felt like I was famous. Because I was!,” Sophia wrote in the article. “It felt good to have so many people support me, and it was cool to see other girls and grown-ups studying bugs.”
She continued, “It made me feel like I could do it too, and I definitely, definitely, definitely want to study bugs when I grow up, probably grasshoppers.”
Jackson said he and Sophia remain in touch. He plans to pursue a career in education after he completes his Ph.D.
“My message for kids would be to follow your passions,” he said, adding that kids should also not hesitate to seek advice. “If you’re interested in it, it’s worth pursuing.”
Spencer admits she does not share her daughter's love for bugs but plans to continue to help Sophia pursue her passion nonetheless.
"I’m her mom. I’ve got her back for her entire life," she said. "I’m going to encourage her. She loves her bugs."
Sophia shared her own advice for people who do not love bugs as much as she does.
"I would say bugs may be scary for some people but bugs really won’t hurt you if you try not to hurt them," she said. "Bugs are very nice."