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What are stalactites and stalagmites: difference and how they are formed

Stalagmites and stalactites are two natural formations that impress us. These are true works of art created by nature, which often generate confusion (especially because of the similarity of both terms), although the truth is that there are differences between the two. For this reason, in AgroCorrn, we talk about what stalactites and stalagmites are: difference and how they are formed .

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  1. What are stalactites and stalagmites?
  2. How are stalagmites and stalactites formed?
  3. Where can we find the largest stalagmite and stalactite in the world?

What are stalactites and stalagmites?

Stalactites and stalagmites have something in common: they are speleotomes. The term speleotomy is of Greek origin and refers to mineral deposits that form in caves after their formation. The phenomenon by which speleotomes arise is chemical precipitation, a process that results in the formation of solid elements from a solution. Both types of speleotomes are formed in limestone caves, since they originate from calcium carbonate deposits. Although, they can also originate in artificial or anthropic cavities from different mineral deposits.

The main difference between the two is their location (result of the training process). Here we explain the differences between stalactite and stalagmite, as well as the formation of each:


They originate from the ceiling and grow downward . Stalactites are created as a simple drop of mineralized water, which when they fall, leaving behind traces of calcite , a calcium carbonate mineral. The successive drops that fall, deposit more amount of calcite that accumulates and finally the deposit takes different forms, the most common being the conical one.

Thus, stalactites are rock formations that form from the top down. In the center of the stalactite a conduit through which water with minerals continues to circulate. This factor differentiates them from other similar morphological formations.


They originate in the ground and grow upward as a result of mineral deposits in filtered water. As in stalactites, they begin to form with a simple mineralized drop and they accumulate calcite residues (calcium carbonate) successively. Unlike stalactites, stalagmites are massive and do not have a central canal.

In addition, due to the formation process, stalagmites have a much more rounded and irregular shape than stalactites. Thus, different types of stalagmites are found according to their irregular shape, but the most common have straight tubular shapes and are called macaroni. There are also the conulitos (calcified crater shape), the pearls (rounded shape), and so on.

Usually, stalactites and stalagmites face each other, that is, one on the ceiling and the other on the floor of the cave. This is due to the fact that from the tip of the stalactites the water drips onto the ground and forms stalagmites .

How are stalagmites and stalactites formed?

As we already said, both stalagmites and stalactites are formed by a process of chemical precipitation (or precipitation of minerals dissolved in water). Both formations are produced by the attack of the CO2 dissolved in the rainwater on the limestone rock, which is formed by calcium carbonate.

As time progresses, rainwater (with a high CO2 content) seeps into the ground and dissolves it . This process results in the formation of calcium bicarbonate, a highly soluble compound in water. When this water rich in bicarbonate rises, a phenomenon of escape of CO2 is generated, which reacts and precipitates, forming calcium carbonate . Then, the calcium carbonate begins to originate concretions around the drop point, in the case of stalactites. Later, stalagmites are formed by the limestone dissolved in the drops of water that spill onto the ground.

Where can we find the largest stalagmite and stalactite in the world?

The formation of both types of speleotomes is a very slow phenomenon . It is estimated that for them to grow 2.5 cm, it takes between 4,000 and 5,000 years. Currently, we can find the largest stalactite in the world in the Caves of Nerja, in Malaga. This stalactite is 60 meters high and 18 meters in diameter and, according to experts, dates back 450,000 years.

As for stalagmites , the largest in the world is about 67 meters high and is located in the Martín Infierno cave, in the province of Cienfuegos, in Cuba. The discovery of this stalagmite was not easy.

If you want to read more articles similar to What are stalactites and stalagmites: difference and how they are formed , we recommend that you enter our category of Other environment .

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