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Fern the opossum, an educational animal at Grandfather Mountain, chews on a grape.
Photo by Monty Combs | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

Originally published: 2014-03-17 11:48:18
Last modified: 2014-03-17 11:49:04

Grandfather Mountain's Fern the opossum dies

Grandfather Mountain said farewell Friday to Fern the opossum, who was humanely put to rest after veterinarians discovered a large tumor in her abdomen.

Fern arrived at Grandfather Mountain in September 2012 at four months old. She was orphaned when her mother was hit by a car and was originally raised by a wildlife rehabilitator. 

Because she was imprinted to be around humans, she could not be released back into the wild. The opossum lived off-display inside the habitats office and a fenced area outdoors.

Fern lived an active life on Grandfather Mountain, participating in numerous educational programs to teach visitors about one of North America's only marsupials.

Habitat staff noticed Thursday that Fern was having trouble breathing and took her Friday to veterinarian Dr. Lee Bolt in Asheville. Bolt located a large, cancerous tumor on the X-rays that was pressing against the opossum's lungs and other organs.

Fern would have been 2 years old in May, and most opossums in the wild live about two years.Not everyone considered Fern's prehensile tail, opposable thumbs and "eat-anything" behaviors cute or lovable, but she quickly ingratiated herself with the habitat staff.

Fern occasionally displayed strange behavior, including climbing onto the desk in the habitats office and rubbing her neck against the phone. Her pursuits were chronicled in a video titled "Phoning with Fern," available at

"I got really attached to Fern," said Emma Schlagal, assistant habitats curator for Grandfather Mountain. "People still think that they're gross, but it's good to let them see what they're like and that they're not that scary."

The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation established to preserve Grandfather Mountain, operate the nature park in the public interest and participate in educational and research activities. For more information, call (800) 468-7325 or plan a trip at