Wednesday, October 23, 2013


The real science behind Viridian: Venus Angel, 
the sequel to Viridian

Fungi aren't just mushrooms, like this poisonous fly agaric:

They come in all shapes and sizes. And some have great names like this .....

........ yukky-looking fungus which is called Yellow Brain Fungus and ......

......... this one which is called Jelly Ear Fungus because it looks and feels like a cold, clammy , rubbery human ear.


At the beginning of Viridian: Venus Angel, Jay thinks back to the last time he saw Viridian, the monstrous plant/human hybrid and Supreme Cultivar Commander.

The last time Jay saw the power-mad monster his massive body was putrefying. His glossy green skin was being eaten by fungi. Fungus spores were puffing from his mouth and nostrils.
"But you didn't actually see his dead body, did you?" said a nagging voice in Jay's head.
"Yeah but that's cos he crawled away to die somewhere, Jay reassured himself. Anyway, stop thinking about him. He's history."

Fungi growing on Viridian's green skin.

So is the tyrant Viridian history? No chance, as Jay discovers to his horror in Viridian Venus Angel!
Viridian has moved underground and morphed into an even freakier and more powerful hybrid, a human/fungus monster called a Fungoid. Here's a description of him in his new Fungoid form.

His new body gave off a sinister glow, like the toadstools on his cave wall. The skin across his skull was as slippery smooth as the deadly poisonous "Destroying Angel". Crowning his head, instead of verdan thorns, was a great pleated crest, shaped like an axe blade. And from his luminous fingers spun strange long, sticky threads that stretched away into darkness.

These long sticky threads are called fungal hyphae. They creep forward with incredible speed and digest everything they touch. When they're fully fed they turn into a toadstool ........ this deadly poisonous Destroying Angel  

The great pleated crest on Viridian's head looks like the gills  underneath a mushroom., like the ones below ...

"Are you kidding?" I can hear you cry. "I could just about believe a plant virus crossing to humans. But a human morphing into a fungus! There can't  be any real science in that."
But, in fact, there is!


Our bones, muscles, tendons and organs inside our bodies are held together by a protein called collagen. Scientists used to believe that collagen couldn't be found outside the animal kingdom. But now they've discovered it in fungi.
That means fungi are much more closely related to animals than they are to plants.
 Amazing fact:  YOU are related to a mushroom!


This yellow slime mould creeps across wet surfaces digesting bacteria as it goes.  

This slime mould is called The Dog's Vomit Slime Mould!


In caves and tunnels underground, Viridian has started to build another evil empire. This time he captures humans from above ground and turns them into zombie slaves who dig tunnels for him. This is how he does it.

The sticky threads that come from Viridian's body are hyphae. They grow underground and every so often they branch upwards and grow a new fungus (the ones Viridian grows are star shaped, called Earthstars) on the surface. These fungi puff out spores. So far so scientific! Real fungi grow hyphae that grow other fungi that puff out spores. That's how they reproduce.

Earthstar Fungi

But the spores from Viridian's Earthstars are breathed in by his human captives. The spores affect their brains and make them like zombies, so they do whatever Viridian wants.


Amazing fact: Yes, some do!

Below is a wasp whose body and brain has been invaded by a fungus.

Image source

The giant spider below was eaten alive by a different fungus

Image source

The body of the dung fly in the photo above was attacked by a fungus that also invaded its brain. The fungus in its brain changed the fly's behaviour and made it climb to a high place to die where the sticky spores that burst from its body could easily stick to other flies. So by making the fly into its zombie slave the fungus spreads and survives. This is the sinister power of fungi!  

Only Dr Moran (Toni's scientist Dad) realises how powerful Viridian is in his new Fungoid transformation. Dr Moran says:

 "He's using the power of fungi for world domination. It's incredible. Biologically, it's brilliant!"

But, for once, Dr.Moran is wrong. Even he's underestimated Viridian because the Fungoid freak's ambitions are much, much greater than ruling planet Earth. But what about the real science behind Viridian's incredible plans?

Watch out for my next post -  SPORES IN SPACE!

All photographs copyright Phil Gates unless otherwise indicated

Monday, September 30, 2013



Sometimes real facts are so amazing, better than most things you could make up. Here are some real, biological facts that gave me ideas for the plots of Viridian and its sequel, Viridian:Venus Angel.

In Viridian humans get infected with a plant virus that gives them chlorophyll skin. Their skin turns green. Like this!

So do their fingernails, hair and teeth. They have freaky green eyes. They call themselves Verdans.
Here's a description of Viridian, after he turns Verdan: His alien eyes rippled with eerie green lights. His green skin looked as supple and smooth as water lily leaves.

Here's Jay's Gran: Jay stared at her face, her green skin clammy with water drops, her hair fluffed out around her head like green candyfloss. She wasn't his Gran anymore. She was one of them.

 Verdans are a new species. They're animals who behave like plants. Through their chlorophyll skin they take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen, like plants do.
But no real animal can do this, can it?
Amazingly, yes it can. And it doesn't even have to catch  a  plant virus to do it! Meet this sea slug. It's what gave me the idea for the Verdans.

These are green sea slugs that have the tongue-twisting scientific name of Elysia viridis - 'viridis'  means green. These animals are green because they eat seaweeds that contain chlorophyll - the green stuff that plants use to carry out photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a process where plants use energy from sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars that then they use for food. Most animals (like us humans) digest chlorophyll when they eat it. But these amazing little creatures store it in their skin, where it lets them photosynthesise like a plant - and like a Verdan!
Image source: Genet, via Wikipedia Commons


Down in the Etiolation Caves, the monstrous plant/human hybrid Viridian  punishes his enemies, or any  Verdan who threatens his power. He does this by depriving them of sunlight.

Here's when Jay finds Teal, Viridian's rival, dying in the Etiolation Caves. Jay sprang back, sour bile rising in his throat. There was a Verdan down there .... her limbs were like soft yellow jelly: she couldn't lift them. Fungus had invaded her weakened body. Spores, like white dust, puffed out of her skin .... she smelled of mouldy graveyards."

Exactly the same thing happens to real plants , when they're kept in the dark.
They go sickly yellow, become jelly-like, spindly and floppy, just like Viridian's poor prisoners.

This is a buttercup plant that's suffering from etiolation because it has been kept in the dark. Its stems are twisted and deathly white because it  has lost all its green chlorophyll. Its tiny, shrivelled leaves are a sickly yellow colour.

 And this is where I got the idea for Viridian's terrible Etiolation Caves!


Ordinary Verdans are gentle and peaceful. But there are other Verdans called Cultivars (the cruel tyrant Viridian becomes their Supreme Commander).

Cultivars were elite Verdans. They were as tough and competitive as the world's most aggressive plants. Plants like bramble that steals other plant's nutrients, shades them from the life-giving sun, strangles them with spiny arms so it alone can thrive.

 A bramble plant, spiny and aggressive

But, among the Cultivars, there's an even scarier group. Immune Hunters are elite warriors. Their job is to hunt down and kill the few humans, like Jay, who are immune to the plant virus. They have plant weapons growing from their green skin, like cruel , hooked thorns, strangling creepers or poison spines.

An Immune Hunter's hand with poison spines. Note its green arm, as snaky and supple as a plant creeper

In the book an Immune Hunter with different plant weapons attacks Jay: She had a thin creeper growing from her wrist ......... it shot through the air towards Jay. Its whippy end waved frantically, seeking something to cling to. It had minute, sticky pads on the underneath, to help it fasten on, then strangle and suck nutrients from whatever living thing it attached to.

This Immune Hunter is a terrifying Green Vampire (read more about them in Viridian:Venus Angel!) who feed off other Verdans. But, in the plant world, are there any real vampire creepers?
 Yes, there are! Meet the weird and sinister plant Dodder. It gave me the idea for Green Vampires.  

When dodder seeds germinate they produce a slender, twining thread that you can see at the bottom of this picture. When the thread plugs itself into its victim (usually a stinging nettle) it sucks food from its host and quickly grows much larger, curling tightly around its victim like a python.

As dodder curls around its victim it burrows into its host wherever it touches it, sucking out more nutrients and growing bigger and stronger every day.


The Verdan dream finally turns sour: The Verdans were a sad , sickly bunch. They'd caught plant infestations: red spider mites running through their hair, greenfly clinging to their eyebrows, circles of orange rust mould on their skin.

They've started to catch horrible plant diseases on their green skin. Like this one:

The orange patches on this leaf are a rust fungus. Its spores invade and then send microscopic threads through the leaf, feeding on it, then ...........

.......... they erupt through the leaf surface and burst open like plague pustules, releasing thousands more spores.

 Sick and dying Verdans rush to take the plant virus antidote discovered by Toni's scientist Dad, Dr Moran. Most are saved when they  become 100% human again.
 But the Cultivars don't want to be cured. Ordinary plant diseases can't kill them; they are too strong.  Then a terrible plant fungus called The Black Spot invades their Headquarters. It spreads like wildfire, eats away their skin and turns them to black slime.
 But I didn't make the deadly Black Spot fungus up. It really exists. It attacks and kills real plants. Here it is, on a leaf.  Imagine that all over your body!

The Cultivars grow giant carnivorous plants like sundews, pitcher plants and Venus Fly Traps. Carnivorous plants are the supreme predators of the plant world. They're highly efficient killing machines that feed off insects they catch. But, of course, giant carnivorous plants can eat bigger prey. In the book Jay gets dropped in a giant pitcher plant by Viridian.

Jay was in the swollen base of a purple tube. The walls were slippery and smooth so prey couldn't escape --- He was sitting in something wet, the remains of the pitcher plant's last meal. He put his hand down and touched what felt like a small, slimy bone.
"Yurgh!" He snatched his hand back out of the stinking soup.
More liquid was rising. He stood up, desperately punching the walls, kicking them. He knew what was happening. The pitcher was filling with water. The plant was drowning him. When he stopped struggling, its digestive juices would flow from the pitcher walls and dissolve his body, absorbing his nutrients into itself.

But are there any pitcher plants that catch animals? Well, none big enough to catch humans. But some can catch reptiles and even rats. This one has caught a lizard.

Image source:Rbrtjong via Wikipedia Commons

   Here's another carnivorous plant, a Venus Fly Trap.

Leaves of Venus fly trap are like spring-loaded traps with interlocking teeth around their edges. When an insect lands on the leaf and touches trigger hairs the trap snaps shut in a fraction of a second ........

............. so that its victim is trapped in a cage. There's no escape. Then the two halves of the trap slowly squeeze more tightly, crushing their victim to death and then digesting it. 

It's the leaves of a fly trap like this (only much bigger) that are grafted onto Toni's back as wings.

This is Jay's first sight of his girlfriend, Toni, after Cultivar surgeons have turned her from human girl into a deadly warrior they call a Venus Angel.

An angel rose above the courtyard trees and hovered there, beating its green wings. Except it wasn't a heavenly angel. It had green skin. And the wings on its back weren't feathery white, but green, edged with spines like teeth and deep blood-red inside.
"Toni!" gasped Jay.
The Venus Angel slowly flapped its beautiful, deadly wings. It gazed down at Jay. Its green eyes seemed totally alien - there was nothing human in them at all.

The Venus Angel (formerly know as Toni Moran!) flies away, pursued by cannibalistic Green Vampires and human vigilantes who hunt down and shoot any remaining Verdans for sport. In Viridian: Venus Angel Jay desperately tries to find her before they do.
But what's happened to the monstrous tyrant Viridian? Is he really dead, as everyone (except Dr. Moran, Toni's scientist Dad) believes?
 Read Viridian: Venus Angel to find out. And look out for my next post of amazing but true facts: "The Power of Fungi"!

And, one final amazing fact! Just after I'd written "Viridian:Venus Angel", I saw this street entertainer.

  Help!  Loose on our streets! A  deadly plant/human hybrid Venus Fly Trap about to eat children!

All Photographs copyright Phil Gates, unless otherwise attributed.