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NDSU professor seeks bat colonies

Erin Gillam

FARGO - They squeak and scream in the night. With fangs shining in the darkness, the black, fleshy critters are often associated with the blood-curdling ghost stories of the season.

But even though bats don't have the best reputation, Erin Gillam has taken a liking to them.

"They're really fascinating creatures," said Gillam, a biology professor at North Dakota State University who, along with her graduate students, has studied bat habitats and behaviors across the state since 2009.

"Before we started, there was very little known as far as statewide surveys," she said. "Out in the Badlands, there's lots of great habitat. Lots of great rock crevasses, things like that."

Gillam and her students are now looking to do more research on bats living in urban environments during the winter months. She's asking for anyone who has seen bats in an urban structure - a home or barn, for example - to contact her so that her students can begin to study how they live in artificial habitats.

"There are definitely bats living in buildings across the state," Gillam said. "But we don't really have any concrete data about it."

Gillam said while bats can pose health concerns in urban environments - about one percent of them carry rabies, she said - she's looking for bats that have made a home at a safe distance from humans.

"I'm definitely not looking for people who want to get rid of the bats," she said. "But lots of people have barns or other places associated with their property, and it doesn't bother them. They're fine with the bats living there."

Despite their bad rap, bats are an important, healthy part of the local ecosystem, she said.

"They eat mosquitos," Gillam said. "They eat a lot of insects that do damage to agriculture, especially a lot of moth species."

And even though Halloween is upon us, the professor doesn't plan on donning a cape and black, pointy ears tonight.

"I usually try not to," she said, laughing. "It's kind of cliché."

Anyone with information on possible urban bat locations can contact Gillam at or call (701) 231-9401.