Cave Formations

Cave Formations

Cave Terms

Cave vs. Cavern: The terms cave and cavern are not necessarily interchangeable. A cave is a natural underground cavity. A cavern is a connected system of caves and passages. Caves and Caverns are often found in the sides of cliffs and hills.

Spelunking: The act of exploring a cave or caverns.

Spelunker: A person who explores caves or caverns.

Speleology: One of the newest of the sciences, is the study of caves.

Speleogogist: A person who studies caves (from the Greek words spelaion, meaning cave, and logos, meaning study.

Solutional caves: Found in rocks which can be dissolved by a weak natural acid, carbonic acid. This acid is formed when rainwater mixes with carbon dioxide in the upper layers of the soil. Squire Boone Caverns is a solutional cave.

Speleothem: Scientific term for a cave formation. Speleothems can be found in many shapes and sizes depending on how they were formed. Many speleothems are named for their resemblance to man-made or more common natural objects.

Bat Facts

Bats are very beneficial to Earth’s ecosystem. They consume vast amounts of insects which would otherwise cost farmers and foresters billions of dollars in lost crops every year. Some bats eat mosquitoes, which are known disease carriers. Bats also pollinate flowers and disperse seeds in forests and deserts.

Bat guano is an important nutrient source for cave life, containing hundreds of species of essential bacteria.
Some of these bacteria produce enzymes that could potentially be used to detoxify industrial wastes and produce gasohol and antibiotics.

Click here for more facts about bats.

Brown Cave Bat

Cave Structures

Cave Coral or Popcorn: Irregular clusters or rough knobs of crystalline calcium carbonate. They build on walls and existing formations as mineral-laden water seeps through the pores of the rocks to the outer surface, where it feeds the growing crystal faces. Less often, popcorn formations are caused by surface flow, splashing water or condensation.

Helictites on the ceiling.

Helictites: Perhaps the most delicate of cave formations, helictites take a myriad of forms that have been described as ribbons, saws, rods, butterflies, fishtails, hands, curly-fries and clumps of worms. They are contorted speleothems that seem to defy gravity. A helictite starts out as a tiny stalactite, but the direction of the end of the straw begins to wander, curve or twist like a corkscrew. Their shapes are the result of capillary pressure acting on tiny water droplets. Capillary action is the ability of a liquid to flow in narrow spaces without the assistance of, and in opposition to, external forces like gravity. Mineral-rich water flows through the central capillary channel with pressure strong enough to cause sideways or upward growth.

Rimstone dams (or gours): Calcite or other mineral barriers on cave floors. These dams are wall-shaped formations that impound small pounds of water or dam cave streams.

Flowstone: forms where films of water flow over walls, floors and formations, depositing sheets of calcium carbonate like icing. It forms in thin layers, but tends to become rounded as it gets thicker. Impurities in the calcite may give a variety of colors to these formations. The reddish areas in the photo were likely caused by iron.

Colums: Formed when stalactites and stalagmites grow together or when one of them grows all the way to floor or ceiling.

Draperies: Formed from drops of mineral-laden water trickle down the undersides of inclined ceilings, leaving deposits in lines which fold and curl as if they were drapes of fabric.

Stalactites: Formations that grow down from the ceiling and form as mineral layers are deposited by water flowing over the outside of soda straw formations. The word stalactitite is derives from the Greek word stalasso which means “to drip”. Stalactites form after the centers of the hollow soda straws become plugged. The photo shows stalactites forming on the ceiling of Squire Boone Caverns. Though they are small, it is possible they are hundreds of years old.

Stalagmites: Formations that grow up from the floor where mineral laden water drips from above. Stalagmites are often, but not always, found beneath stalactites. The have flat or rounded tops as compared to the carrot shaped stalactites.

Soda Straws: Thin-walled, hollow tubes about a quarter inch in diameter. They form as water runs through their centers and deposits ring of calcite around the tips of the formations.