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Sixth Death at NC State Since August Causes Reminder That 'Free Moms' Are Here to Help

Quote of the Week:

“Your mind is like this water, my friend. When it is agitated, it becomes difficult to see. But if you allow it to settle, the answer becomes clear.” –Master Oogway, Kung Fu Panda

Fact of the Week:

While zombie apocalypse stories are mostly for our entertainment, other species in the animal kingdom have encountered the real thing. Ants, for one, experience multiple fungi and diseases that cause “zombie-like” behavior. This week, we’ll look at one in particular—the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus. It takes control of the ants' behavior, ultimately forcing them to kill themselves before using their corpses to spread to other ants and locations.

Here's how it works: The fungus, which is found in tropical forests, infects the ant through contact, entering through spores that attach and penetrate the exoskeleton. Once it enters the ant’s body, it slowly takes over its behavior.

According to National Geographic, “There’s an incubation period where infected ants appear perfectly normal and go about their business undetected by the rest of the colony. That’s unusual because social insects like ants usually have something called social immunity: Sick members get kicked out of the group to prevent the rest from getting sick too.”

Once the fungus has enough control over the ant (by continuing to feed on its innards), it forces it to go to a lower, more moist micro climate. The ant then bites a leaf of a plant and waits for death. Several days after it dies, “the fungus sends a fruiting body out through the base of the ant’s head, turning its shriveled corpse into a launchpad from which it can jettison its spores and infect new ants,” National Geographic reports.

However, though the infection is 100% lethal, the goal of the fungus isn’t to convert the colonies of ants into a mass group of zombies. In order for the fungus to thrive, it requires a balanced ecosystem. Therefore, it only infects a few ants at a time in each colony. Interestingly, the disease does not infect the ants brain, but rather enters through the abdomen and then forms “tubular scaffolding within and around ants’ muscle bundles. This suggests the fungus casts its mind control through bioactive compounds that interfere with the ant’s nervous system and control hosts directly at the muscles.”

In total, “researchers have identified over 200 species of Ophiocordyceps that can infect hosts from 10 insect orders, as well as spiders, though not all lead to behavioral manipulation.” Scientists continue to study the fungus, because, as they say, if these insects can be so affected, it is possible this can happen to humans too.

National Geographic contributed to this article.

News Update:

Via New York Post, Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images

After a sixth student death at North Carolina State since August, mothers remind students that their group, “Free Moms”, is here to help. They offer hugs, snacks, conversation, and support, and their number has grown to about 80 individuals that includes “free dads” and “free pets.”

This reminder comes following the death of a freshman at NC State, who was found dead in his dorm room on Sunday. According to a university spokesperson, the death was “unintended.” Last fall, there were four suicides at NC State, prompting parents and advocates to call for more mental health resources. This came after students complained that it sometimes would take two weeks to schedule an appointment with school professionals to talk about their mental health issues.

The “Free Moms” group meets every Thursday from 1-4pm to offer their support in any way they can. “Banks Pete, a student from Greensboro, said he frequents the Thursday gatherings because ‘these moms show that there is unconditional love, no strings attached,’” WRAL News reported.

WRAL News contributed to this article.

Sports Update:


Several months ago we wrote about Ben Shelton, the men’s tennis player who had won the 2022 NCAA Men’s Tennis singles title. Shelton, 20, had set off on his professional journey, and it had started off with several top-tier wins. Most professional tennis players do not attend college but head straight to the pro circuit, sometimes starting as young as fourteen years old. But Shelton proved that the traditional path isn’t always the right path, and he’s continued to show that in 2023.

Shelton’s run at the Australian Open finally ended yesterday, but only after a hard-fought, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 quarterfinal loss to fellow American, Tommy Paul. Shelton won two-five set matches along the way, defeating Zhang Zhizhen (CHN) in the first round, and American J.J. Wolf in the fourth round. In the second and third rounds he won in straight sets.

Shelton will be disappointed not to have made the semifinals, where he would have faced nine-time Australian Open champion, Novak Djokovic. But he’ll still take home $372,956 for his run, and, perhaps more importantly, also take with him the belief that he belongs at the top of men’s tennis.

ESPN contributed to this article.

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