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City girl’s love of insects became an international sensation

Published on

Troy Shantz

Sophia Spencer has always had a thing for bugs. And because of it, the eight-year-old Sarnia girl is now a published author and something of a celebrity.

It began when Sophia visited a butterfly conservatory in Niagara Falls as a two-year-old. When a blue butterfly landed on her it wouldn’t leave, recalled her mom Nicole Spenser.

In fact, at the end of the visit security had to remove it before they exited.

“After that she asked me if she could get a ‘bug catcher. It just went from there,” she said.

That love of insects wasn’t always well received, though.

At a previous school outside Ottawa classmates pushed Sophia, squashed her specimens and bullied her relentlessly.

“It got to the point that she where she was just coming home in tears,” her mom said. “She didn’t want to do her bugs anymore.”

So Nicole Spenser took to the Internet, appealing to the global entomology community for support for her daughter and her passion for things that creep and crawl. It struck a nerve.

Morgan Jackson, a PhD student and member of the Entomology Society of Canada, was among those who responded.

“Sophia’s a really bright, curious little girl and when Nicole sent along her first email… it resonated with myself and the other people involved at the time,” Jackson said.

“I was sure that some of our members could help.”

Jackson spread the word using the Twitter hashtag #BugsR4Girls, which drew responses from scientists, researchers and insect lovers around the world.

Jackson, who grew up in Camlachie himself, recently published a paper in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America based on Sophia’s story, for which she earned a co-author credit.

Her story has been covered by Good Morning America, The Today Show, CBS News, Global News, National Public Radio (NPR), Buzzfeed and the Evan Solomon Show.

“I still have no clue what the big deal is,” she said at her home last week.

These days, Sophia’s ‘bug catchers’ house prized specimens, including “Chirps” the cricket and “Hornsey,” a horned caterpillar. Another container wriggles with hundreds of maggots Sophia is trying to raise to adulthood.

“If there’s a fly in the house she makes me get the bug net and I have to catch it and release it,” Nicole Spencer said. “I’m not allowed to kill it.”

Bug-loving people everywhere sharing their own stories of being bullied has been an enriching experience for Sophia, her mom said.

“She saw that she wasn’t the weird kid anymore, and that she could like something and it was perfectly normal.”

Things are good at school too, where Sophia was invited to bring in “Hornsey,” and “Chirps” for a class visit recently, Spencer said.

“She’s got her personality back and she’s got her love for bugs back,” she said. “I don’t think she’s going to stop.”

“No, I’m not,” confirmed Sophia with a smile.



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