Stalactites vs Stalagmites: What is the Difference?
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I am sure every grade schooler knows the difference between stalactites vs stalagmites, after all: Stalactites hold tight to the ceiling while stalagmites might reach up to the ceiling.
When it comes to caves, there are many fun formations and features involved, which makes it no surprise that so many people are fascinated by them. Caves are formed in different ways, and many are underground, while others are formed in rocks seated on the earth’s surface.
Stalactites vs Stalagmites
The most easily identifiable formations, when it comes to caves, are stalactites and stalagmites. So, we are going to look at what these are and how they come about in caves.
It is all in a name
Stalactites are known as the mineral formations which clings to the top of the cave. The term stalactite means “to drip,” as many we come across often seem to “pause” in mid-air, even though it is connected to a base. On the flip side, Stalagmites are the opposite of stalactites as they are found on the caves’ flooring. The term means droppings, which are formations from minerals that fall from the ceiling of the cave.
Understanding Stalactites and Stalagmites
Stalactites are generally formed from many things such as minerals, sand, mud, lava, and even amberat, which is the crystallized urine of pack rats.
In most cases, the material formed to make stalactite is soluble minerals. Stalagmites are the drippings of these minerals that fall and steadily grow on the cave’s ground. Stalagmites grow rather slowly in natural caves, while in artificial tunnels and caverns, they tend to grow quite fast.
As for stalactites, the fastest-growing ones are the soda straw types. Initially, water flowing from the roof of the caves mixed with various elements tends to harden over time due to the atmospheric changes. Stalactites often meet as well and form in a “drape-like” or “curtain-like” pattern.
The drippings that form the stalagmites generally are from those dripping stalactites. Those stalagmites form in different shapes and are made from different materials and mineral-like matters. Stalagmites are called different names such as…
- Button Stalagmite – These are formed when the drippings are small, flat, and/or round.
- Pile-of-Plates Stalagmite – These are formed when stalagmites highly resemble piled-up plates with lots of broken borders.
- Mushroom Stalagmites – These are formed in the shape of a mushroom and mostly consist of mud.
- Lily Pad Stalagmites – These stalagmites are shaped in lily pads normally seen on ponds and lakes.
There comes a time when a stalactite and stalagmite meet and that is referred to as a column. Many of these formations are made up of calcite, aragonite, and gypsum. Research shows that up to 54 other minerals are involved in the process of forming these cave features!
In some caves that are linked to volcanoes, you may come in contact with what are called lava stalactites and stalagmites. With lava stalactites and stalagmites, secondary minerals are not involved as the main material is dripping lava which cools over time.
When it comes to most regions (if not all), touching or tearing apart, stalactites and stalagmites are generally not allowed. Seeing it takes millions of years of form, once altered, it will not repair or recover in any human existing years. As such, mining, collection, or selling of these formations are illegal in many countries.
Why Are Baby Stalactites Called Soda Straws?
When stalactites are formed, the process generally starts through a process that looks similar to a juice straw. This is mainly called a speleothem and is a hollow mineral tube. When water drips through the rocks in the roof of caves, it forms these soda straws.
At the “baby stage,” these soda straws are quite delicate and should not be altered as they are the transport method for lots of excreting minerals. However, as minerals continue to drip from the rocks’ cracks, the straw will eventually expand and grow “fatter” as the mineral lodges in the outside of the straw.
Are Stalactites Crystals?
Stalactites and stalagmites that are formed by calcite are most times overgrown by aragonite crystals. Interestingly, a lot of these stalactites and stalagmites may look like crystals but are naturally not.
Instead, they are mainly formed from water films located on the surface and not literally water drippings. They do not have hollow insides, which can be a little tricky for many people who try to harvest them.
Serves them right.
Why Do the Stalactites Have Pointed Tips While the Stalagmites Usually Do Not?
A lot of people have been perplexed by this! Seeing stalactites are formed in the ceiling and occur when drippings are done, it is natural for it to have a downward shape. It forms a tube shape – which is why they are called soda straws. However, not every stalactite forms a stalagmite, and as such, tends to stay positioned in the ceiling.
On the other hand, stalagmites are formed when the drippings reach the ground of the cave. It is generally a pile-up of the dripped minerals and, therefore, will not have sharp edges. In turn, stalagmites may end up folding over and over with the continued drippings.
Remember those Argonite crystals?
They are highly sought after by naturalists who use crystals for their healing powers. According to them, Aragonite provides strength and support, helping to combat anger and emotional stress. Aragonite is attuned to the Earth Goddess, encouraging conservation and recycling. It is a reliable earth-healer and grounding stone. Aragonite transforms geopathic stress.
Please don’t help yourself when you see it in a cave – go to a certified dealer who gets it in eco-friendly ways. Remember that old scout motto to leave no trail – so the next adventurer can enjoy the natural splendor.
Other articles you may find interesting if you liked Stalactites vs Stalagmites:
- Ultimate Guide to Schieks Cave, Minnesota (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)
- Ultimate Guide to Upton Heritage Park, Massachusetts (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)
- Ultimate Guide to Westcave Preserve, Texas (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)
- Ultimate Guide to Kickapoo Indian Caverns, Wisconsin (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)
- Ultimate Guide to Moaning Caverns, California