Ask 8-year-old Sophia Spencer about her best friends, and she'll tell you most of them have six legs, antennae and a thorax.
The Canadian second grader has been obsessed with insects since she was a toddler — hunting and capturing different species of bugs, then singing to them and allowing them to crawl all over her before releasing them back into the wild.
But when Sophia's classmates began to tease her for her interest in bugs, her mom, Nicole Spencer, reached out to the Entomological Society of Canada for help.
"She is often teased at school by her peers because she will proudly display her current bug friend on her shoulder," Spencer wrote in an email to the organization. She asked if a scientist could reach out to Sophia to encourage her love of bugs. "I want her to know from an expert that she is not weird or strange (what kids call her) for loving bugs and insects."
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Morgan Jackson is a social media volunteer fro the Entomological Society of Canada. Jackson says when he received Spencer's email, he decided to tweet a photo of the letter along with a request for scientists to show Sophia some support by sending her messages using the hashtag #BugsR4Girls.
The response has been overwhelming. According to Jackson, more than 1,000 people have retweeted the message, and 135,000 users have viewed the tweet. Messages and tweets from around the world have been pouring in for Sophia since the tweet was posted, all using the now viral hashtag.
"I think her story, or at least parts of it, resonate with a lot of people," Jackson told TODAY Parents. "In my experience, many people who have an interest or a passion for something that's a little outside of the ordinary have, at some point, had that interest questioned or been teased or bullied for it, and I think Sophia's story provides them an opportunity to stand up for someone as perhaps they wished someone could have done for them."
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Spencer says Sophia has been thrilled with the outpouring of support. Through the #BugsR4Girls hashtag, Sophia has been invited to tour entomological facilities at universities, speak with professionals in the field, and has been offered signed books, bug samples and bug-catching supplies.
"I wanted her to know from a professional that her love of bugs wasn't weird — that she was OK the way she was, and could make a career out of working with bugs," said Spencer. "Sophia is an amazing kid. She is very smart and has wonder and curiosity about the world around her."
"The support means the world to me, " Spencer continued. "I can only encourage her so much before she stops believing me, but to have so many people rooting for her — she will believe it now for the rest of her life."