The official field guide to the North American mask-wearing Homo sapiens

There’s been no definitive handbook to identify the habits, gestures, and plumage of this novel species. Until now.

The "I’m Not a Doctor, but I Play One at Wegmans."
The "I’m Not a Doctor, but I Play One at Wegmans."Ally Rzesa

As May heads toward June, and stay-at-home restrictions are eased, a new breed has entered the warming landscape: The North American Mask-Wearing Homo Sapiens. What to make of these curious specimens, with their varied markings and seemingly irrational behavior patterns?

Why do some masked Homo sapiens cover their noses and mouths, while others conceal only their chins? Why are the fast-moving, running members of the species allowed to breach others’ personal space? What sparks the hostility toward members of the group who are unmasked? Does the Maskus-Americanus who pulls down its covering to show its teeth in greeting not understand why he’s masked?


How are we to learn about this invasive breed? Vogue scientists have given us a brief guide (“Cloth Masks to Shop Now”), as have GQ anthropologists (“How Face Masks Went From Necessity to Personal Style Item Overnight”).

No less an institution than the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is collecting masks for future study.

But there’s been no definitive handbook to identify the habits, gestures, and plumage of this novel species. Until now. Welcome to the Official Field Guide to the North American Mask-Wearing Homo Sapiens.

The New England Nostril Breather.
The New England Nostril Breather.Ally Rzesa

The New England Nostril Breather

Characteristics of the breed: Easily identified by a facial mask that covers the chin and mouth, but not the nose. The Nostril Breather is under the false belief that she can contract coronavirus via her chin.

The Helena of Hypochondria

Characteristics of the breed: Unlike many other breeds, the Helena takes precautions to the extreme. Her mask is on, no matter what the circumstance: in the car, in the middle of the forest without another living soul within miles, or near the family cat, which she heard could carry coronavirus. She is slightly more difficult to find in the wild because she leaves her nest as a little as possible.


The Helena of Hypochondria.
The Helena of Hypochondria. Ally Rzesa

The Red Capped Cro-Magnon

Characteristics of the breed: Easily recognized by a bare face and an angry expression. He is a defensive creature who refuses to wear a mask and if he’s told to do so will begin citing portions of the Constitution that don’t actually exist. Try not to roll your eyes when he tells you that science is as real as a tooth fairy and the pandemic is a political conspiracy.

The Red Capped Cro-Magnon.
The Red Capped Cro-Magnon.Ally Rzesa

The Right Said Fred

Characteristics of the breed: Its name comes from the British one-hit wonder Right Said Fred, which gifted the world with the song “I’m Too Sexy." This species wears no mask at all as it performs feats of athleticism, lest a piece of life-saving fabric obscure his handsome, Romanesque features. Let’s face it: He’s too sexy for his mask. The Right Said Fred is often seen running (shirtless), or riding a bicycle. It has a distinct mating call of “I’m too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt, so sexy it hurts.”

The Right Said Fred.
The Right Said Fred.Ally Rzesa

The Tewksbury Tufted Toucher

Characteristics of the breed: The toucher can easily be identified by her flickering hands and the constant need to touch her mask with hummingbird-like precision. Is she checking to see if it’s still on her face? Is she adjusting it because it’s uncomfortable? Only one thing is certain: She needs to keep those hands away from her mask, and the rest of her face.


The Tewksbury Tufted Toucher.
The Tewksbury Tufted Toucher.Ally Rzesa

The Blue-Chinned Chatterbox

Characteristics of the breed: Easily identified by a mask that is always pulled down and tucked under the chin to make constant conversation or smoking easier. The Chatterbox doesn’t seem to understand that COVID-19 can be transmitted through the mouth and nose. Why wear a mask if it’s not worn properly? Behavioral experts are testing the cognitive skills of this species.

The Blue-Chinned Chatterbox.
The Blue-Chinned Chatterbox. Ally Rzesa

The Paul Lynde (also known as the Charles Nelson Reilly or the Fred Jones)

Characteristics of the breed: Much like its 1970s namesake, the Paul Lynde uses a bandana or similar square of fabric as a mask, but instead of wearing it over the face, the fabric is often spotted around the base of the neck instead, taking on the characteristics of a jaunty ascot or neckerchief. If 1970s game show chic is the goal, then the Paul Lynde is winning. If the breed is looking to protect himself and others against coronavirus, then the circle does not get the square.

The Quilted Cambridge Crafter

Characteristics of the breed: The Crafter often sports a whimsical pattern on his mask. The mask fabric may be left over from sewing floral place mats or curtains for a toddler’s bedroom. No matter where it came from, the Crafter can put it on his sewing machine and magically turn it into a law-compliant facial necessity. The Crafter’s family and friends are often seen in similarly whimsical masks because he has a hard time stopping at just one.

The Quilted Cambridge Crafter.
The Quilted Cambridge Crafter.Ally Rzesa

The I’m Not a Doctor, but I Play One at Wegmans


Characteristics of the breed: If you’re wondering where the country’s supply of personal protective equipment has gone, look no further than the Not a Doctor. She’s wearing an official N95 mask, a gown, and gloves. The ensemble is topped off with a surgical cap. There is no safer way to shop for avocados and almond milk.

The Fuchsia-Billed Power Pelosi

Characteristics of the breed: This still-emerging, yet rapidly evolving species matches the color of her masks to power suits. A prime example is regularly spotted in the House of Representatives as Nancy Pelosi begins the arduous task of matching all of her masks to a vast closet of pantsuits. Mask-spotters are anxiously watching to see if Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany will evolve in a similar fashion.

The Polite Puller

Characteristics of the breed: It’s a game of will-they-or-won’t-they as they are approached in the wild. At first it appears that they have no mask, but as you step within the 6 feet, the mask magically appears at the last minute. It’s a mystery why the mask hops up and down on the face of the puller, but in the end you’re thankful that this evolutionary trait has developed.

The Devil Wears a Prada Face Mask

Characteristics of the breed: The Devil has never missed a fashion trend, and the face mask-as-accessory is no different. She will arrive at future dinner parties wearing a black sequined mask, a Chanel mask, or, perhaps a classic Hermes scarf refashioned as a face covering. When the Devil emerges from her meticulously curated nest later this spring, her predicted habitat will be in the Newbury Street area of Boston.


Christopher Muther can be reached at christopher.muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther. Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.