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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press Writer, Published October 30 2010

North Dakota bats caught, counted, released

Researchers from North Dakota State University will spend Halloween weekend showing experts the results of what is believed to be the state’s first survey of bats. It’s a population that’s bigger than expected.

Early results show a bountiful batch in a state with few of the animals’ favorite roosting spots, such as caves and trees. Graduate student Paul Barnhart discovered thousands of bats in an abandoned barn in western North Dakota.

Barnhart is part of a team led by biological researcher Erin Gillam. The researchers conducted the survey to learn more about how the state’s bats hibernate and gain a better understanding of a fungal disease that has killed more than a million bats in at least 11 states.

Gillam said the results exceeded expectations but that may be because no one had tried to count the state’s bats before.

Gillam and some of her students are participating in the North American Society for Bat Research symposium that ends this weekend in Denver. Much of the conference is dedicated to discussion of white-nose syndrome, a disease first seen in upstate New York in 2006.

Although it’s not clear how the disease is spread, Gillam believes it will eventually reach the Dakotas.

The North Dakota survey, funded by the state Game and Fish Department, began in 2009. Barnhart, who calls bats “just the cutest things ever,” spent last summer scouting the state and wound up catching and releasing about 200 bats.

Hot spots for bat activity included Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Missouri River Valley and the Pembina Gorge. In a state known for having few trees, Barnhart jokes he could have assigned a name to every one after scouring them for flying mammals.

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