Don’t tell Sophia Spencer that bugs aren’t for girls.
That’s the message classmates sent the 8-year-old when they bullied her for loving insects (and especially grasshoppers).
In response, little Sophia helped co-author a study in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America about her love of bugs — and how Twitter can help encourage more women to pursue careers in science.
Before writing that paper, Sophia told NPR she used to feel weird about liking the little critters.
But now, that’s not the case.
“I really thought loving bugs wasn't the best hobby," Sophia told NPR. “But after I realized bugs are for girls I thought to myself, ‘Well, I think I should start loving bugs again, because just because people say they're weird and gross doesn't mean I shouldn't like them.’”
Sophia’s path to earning a byline in a scientific paper started last year, when her mom wrote a letter to the Entomological Society of Canada.
Her mother, Nicole Spencer, wanted to show Sophia that a passion for insects isn’t a bad thing.
The society posted the letter on Twitter, calling for other entomologists to prove to the little girl that a love for bugs can fuel a career.
Immediately, people responded to the tweet, assuring Sophia that yes, #BugsR4Girls.
And the man behind the original tweet from the society — entomology Ph.D. candidate Morgan Jackson — teamed up with Sophia to pen a scientific paper about Twitter and promoting women in science.
Some of the paper focuses on Sophia’s favorite bugs, including her “best bug friend” Hopper the grasshopper.
“My favorite bugs are snails, slugs and caterpillars, but my favorite one of all is grasshoppers,” she wrote. “Last year in the fall I had a best bug friend and his name was Hoppers. When I first found Hoppers, I was kind of scared because that was the first time I held a grasshopper.
“When I grabbed him, he peed on me, and I thought he had bit me and that was my blood, so I flinged him and he landed somewhere on the stairs, but I found him and I was still a little bit scared, but I realized that he still liked me, like that was just a way to see if I was going to hurt him!”
But Sophia, who said she is no longer bullied at school for liking bugs, also wrote about the confidence she gained by working on the study.
“It felt good to have so many people support me, and it was cool to see other girls and grown-ups studying bugs,” she wrote. “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.”
“If somebody said bugs weren’t for girls, I would be really mad at them,” she added. “I think anything can be for anybody, including bugs.”
And she’s having an impact: Jackson tweeted that their study is the most popular one ever published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.
So, yeah, don’t tell Sophia that bugs aren’t for girls, or she just might prove they are.