Differences between Stalactites and Stalagmites

It is important to mention that speleothems are secondary mineral deposits formed in caves and cavities. Thus, stalactites and stalagmites are two types of speleothems that are formed by a chemical precipitation process and although both have a conoidal shape, they present differences depending on their location. In this sense, in this article we will show the characteristics of both formations, as well as their most outstanding differences.

stalactites

Primarily, a stalactite is a speleothem that forms as a result of continued mineral deposits by seeping water. Thus, stalactites begin to be created with a simple drop of mineralized water, so when the drop falls, it leaves behind a residue of calcite, a mineral made up of calcium carbonate. Each successive drop that forms and falls deposits another small layer of calcite and accumulates in different shapes, the most common being the conical.

That is why it is often said that the stalactites “fall” from the ceiling of the cave, since it is a rock formation that comes from the top down. Thus, in the center of the stalactites there is a conduit through which the mineral-laden water continues to flow, which differentiates it from other morphologically similar formations. Likewise, at the tip of the stalactites, the water drips and falls to the ground, where the accumulation of precipitates forms other speleothems called stalagmites. Hence, the stalagmites and stalactites are generally facing each other on the ceiling and floor of the cave.

Stalagmite

It can be said that a stalagmite is a speleothem that forms in the ground as a result of continuous mineral deposits by the water that filters. Stalagmites begin to be created with a simple drop of mineralized water, since, when the drop falls to the floor of the cave, calcite residues accumulate, a mineral formed by calcium carbonate and the stalagmite is formed. Stalagmites are solid and do not have any central conduit in their formation as occurs in stalactites.

On the other hand, due to the formation process, morphologically stalagmites tend to have more rounded and more irregular shapes than stalactites. In this way, there are different types of stalagmites, most of them have irregular shapes but the most common are the macaroni that have a straight tubular shape, the conulites that have the shape of a calcified crater, the pearls that have a rounded shape, among others.

As can be seen, the differences between stalactites and stalagmites lie not only in the location but also in their morphology. Therefore, in this sense we find that:

  • The stalagmites are located on the floor of the cave while the stalactites are on the ceiling.
  • Stalactites have a hole in the center through which water drips, while stalagmites are solid, that is, they lack said hole.
  • Stalactites can have different shapes but conical and tubular ones predominate while stalagmites can have different shapes but rounded and irregular ones predominate.

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