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Grandfather Mountain’s opossum, Fern, dies

Fern, an opossum who became a favorite of the office staff at Grandfather Mountain and received national attention for her “use” of the telephone, has died.

Officials at the state park said a veterinarian euthanized Fern on Friday after finding a large cancerous growth in the marsupial’s abdomen.

Fern died two months short of her second birthday, and Grandfather Mountain officials said 2 years is the average lifespan of an opossum in the wild.

The animal came to the park, along the Blue Ridge Parkway at the juncture of Watauga, Avery and Caldwell counties, in September 2012 at the age of 4 months. Park officials said Fern had been orphaned when her mother was hit by a car.

Grandfather Mountain State Park staff made Fern part of the educational programs, using her as a way of teaching visitors about opossums, the largest order of marsupials in the Western Hemisphere.

But she also became a favorite among staff members, said Kellen Short, a spokesman for Grandfather Mountain. Short recalled that Fern sometimes climbed onto a desk in the office and rubbed her neck against the phone.

Staff members turned that into a YouTube video, which they titled “Phoning With Fern.”

That video earned Fern attention on several national TV shows and in TV Guide.

“I got really attached to Fern,” Emma Schlagal, assistant habitats curator for Grandfather Mountain, said in a news release. “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.”

Fern could not be released into the wild, Short said, because the opossum had become imprinted to be around humans.

Last Thursday, staff members noticed that Fern was having trouble breathing. They took her to veterinarian Dr. Lee Bolt in Asheville, and X-rays detected the growth pressing against her lungs and other organs.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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