The New Bats

Teresa Paiva 6

Bats are the only mammals capable of flight.

According to Wikipedia, there are over 11.116 different species representing one quarter of all mammal species in the world. Besides that, they come in various shapes and sizes, they have a fantastic capacity for environmental adaptation and one of the most varied diets amongst mammals, as well as a sophisticated echolocation system.

I do not know which of these characteristics is more enviable. Is it their flight? Is it their sonar? Or perhaps their sleep duration, which is of twenty hours per day? In fact, despite their prolonged sleeping hours, they have been tranquilly surviving for millions of years.

Is it envy? Yes, I would say so, because nowadays I give consultations to patients of all ages with their sleeping habits upside-down. They go to bed after 6 a.m., and get up in the middle of the afternoon.

They sleep by day, to be awake by night, to be working, playing, chatting and surfing on the web, producing or creating something, or simply watching television with more or less zapping. I am talking about young, teenagers or young adults, middle-aged persons, in creative professions or not, retired elderly who let themselves lull by the night.

Social life: it is not easy. Health: it is certainly hard, since – and I will say this often – sleeping by day entails to special and serious health concerns.

Why? We are not bats, nor mice, nor owls. We are human beings and we were made, genetically and physiologically, to live by day, and the presence of electrical light will not convince our body otherwise.

The day-night regulation, called circadian regulation, was precociously acquired during the evolution of life on Earth by blue bacteria, called cyanobacteria, who wanted to avoid the sun induced mutations in their reproduction cycles. This circadian organization capacity exists in all living beings, in both animals and plants. It is so old, so intrinsic and so essential, that electric light will not thwart it.

Back to the bats – these fantastic flying animals had a huge impact on many cultures: whereas they are a symbol of happiness and longevity in Chinese tradition, and Batman is a savior in the movies, in most cultures, however, these extraordinary animals are associated to something grim, to sadness, to vampires and death; and in Western Africa, some consider them to be the representation of a “torn soul”.

I have enormous admiration for bats, but I must say that most bat-men and women I have encountered had some sort of angst and sadness, as if something in them was actually “torn”.