Lately, I’ve been paying out time accumulating the plastic tags from bagged pastries and sorting them into little Latin-named piles like Palpatophora utiliformis and Tridentidae.
It is an activity that appears to merit a *file scratch* *freeze frame*: You’re probably pondering how I bought into this condition.
It started 1 snowy wintertime night time when I stumbled on HORG.com, whose residence display screen functions an official-hunting seal bearing a drawing of a bread tag — just one of the plastic kinds groceries use to continue to keep baggage shut — and the Latin phrase Fiat Divisa Panem (loosely translated: “Let it be sliced bread”).
HORG stands for Holotypic Occlupanid Investigation Group. It is a self-described “database of synthetic taxonomy” committed to plastic bread tags, referred to on the website as occlupanids (this derives from occlu, that means “close,” and pan, indicating “bread”).
It classifies the bread tags into 17 various people, with names like Haplognathidae and Mycognathidae, and more divides the doodads by genus and species, for a full of 208 unique styles (excluding the “Pseudo-occlupanids,” which have a “hotly contested” taxon that some “occlupanologists” discover it “too close for cladistic consolation.”)
Some are large in Japan other individuals are observed in “a refrigerated niche” and “may prefer cooler environments.” My favourite is the Spinosacculidae, a rare purple just one located in close proximity to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe with an “oral groove” that resembles a turtle.
HORG hovers involving earnest scientific endeavor and elaborate hoax. The species descriptions choose on the formal tone of a field notebook, preserve for a handful of playful winks. Just take the description for Eurycomplector labiopictus, which are printed with little photographs of lips: “The splotch-like markings… may well certainly be some form of camouflage, akin to the places on a leopard.”
HORG presents by itself as some distinguished collection of researchers, but in actuality, the “Board of Taxonomy” is just John Daniel, a 50-anything San Francisco Bay Space personal computer graphics and visualization specialist who has meticulously catalogued plastic detritus considering the fact that 1994. In school, he researched vertebrate zoology and sculpture. Although he’s not a working towards biologist, he tells me that he’s “absolutely obsessed with the organic environment.”
“It really struck me how weirdly biomorphic it appears to be like, like a larval parasite with claws. Why does no 1 notice these things?”
“Paying attention to points that are dismissed, unloved, or outright detested is anything that I obtain appealing — anything from ticks to butterflies to earwigs,” Daniel states through Zoom from his household business office, in which he’s proudly hung a framed display screen of occlupanids.
Like most of us, he’d encountered bread tags his entire everyday living. But he didn’t see them — truly see them — right up until he was 24 and saw “this small plastic doodad” on the ground of someone’s apartment. “It genuinely struck me how weirdly biomorphic it seems, like a larval parasite with claws,” he claims. “Why does no 1 notice these points?”
At that moment, “the blinders arrived off,” he states. “I started out viewing them everywhere.” Taxonomizing the items of trash was his “natural following action.” A close friend gave him the URL HORG.com — he prefers the snappier HORG.org, but to his chagrin, someone’s been sitting on it — and he used his rudimentary HTML techniques to cobble with each other a site whose layout has barely changed about the many years.
Currently he’s received a collection of occlupanids contributed by admirers from around the globe. Daniel admits that particular regions are underrepresented, including China and some sections of the African continent. And he doesn’t get many occlupanid samples from nations around the world that don’t have a lot of processed bread, like France. (In the U.K., the tags are truly banned because of to ingestion potential risks.)
At its main, HORG is about curiosity and appreciation for gentleman-manufactured detritus. Daniel earns no revenue from his endeavor — all proceeds from T-shirt sales go to the international Modern society for the Preservation of All-natural Record Collections — but he has obtained a tiny evaluate of fame.
The phrase occlupanid made it into a 2010 NPR quiz present, and New Zealand’s Wellington Marine Museum and Research Station at the time named occlupanids its “critter of the week.” Because specified occlupanids are extra most likely to grip on to the intestines if ingested, healthcare researchers utilized Daniel’s classifications in a 2011 peer-reviewed tutorial short article, crediting him as co-creator.
Occlupantology is contagious. Supporters have organized a tightknit Discord and the r/occlupanid subreddit, which has extra than 1,200 customers. Then there are his audience’s snail mail letters — Daniel will get 20 a thirty day period, some of them accompanied by occlupanid samples. “It’s likely the most amazing thing in the earth,” Daniel states of the letters. He replies to each one on HORG letterhead.
I request him why people today should really treatment about occlupanids. He pauses. “That’s a tricky one,” he suggests, in advance of pointing out the human affinity for categorizing things. As for other day to day merchandise he’d like to see labeled? Daniel details to one-use flossers. “They’re so biomorphic, most likely due to the fact they are intended to be touched by human fingers,” he claims. “So they’ve progressed into these unusual styles.”
To me, HORG’s impracticality is accurately what helps make it delightful: As other corners of the online devolved into a noisy company hellscape, this uncomplicated web site remained devoted to the noble, pointless pursuit of taxonomizing items of trash. It is not attempting to be just about anything other than what it is.
These days, I discover just about every occlupanid I see, and often I can even label them. I also obtain myself spending far more attention to the other neglected “creatures” of the Anthropocene — zip ties, wristbands, and the like. The routine of noticing the things of the real environment, particularly when my eyes are trained on a screen most of the day, has been a most great reward.