Snottites

Snottites
Snottites

By CATH HEMLEY VSA

I found something in a New Guinea ridge recently that fitted a very vague description I remembered of a cave formation called a snottite.

I don’t know if it is what I found but I thought it was an interesting, rather gross and obscure type of formation other people may find fascinating.

Snottites are colonies of single-celled extremophilic bacteria which hang from the walls and ceilings of caves and are similar to small stalactites, but have the consistency of snot, a slang word for nasal mucus.

The bacteria derive their energy from chemosynthesis of volcanic sulfur compounds including H2S and warm water solution dripping down from above, producing sulphuric acid. Because of this, their waste products are highly acidic (approaching pH=0), with similar properties to battery acid.1

Snottites were recently brought to attention by researchers Diana Northup and Penny Boston, studying them (and other organisms) in a toxic sulphur cave called Cueva de Villa Luz (Cave of the Lighted House), in Tabasco, Mexico.

The term ‘snottite’ was originally given to these cave features by Jim Pisarowicz in 1986.

Brian Cox’s BBC series ‘Wonders of the Solar System’ saw the scientist examining snottites in the caves and positing that, if there is life on Mars, it may be similarly primitive and hidden beneath the surface of the Red Planet.


  1. Hose L D, Pisarowcz J A. (1999) Cueva de Villa Luz, Tabasco, Mexico: reconnaissance study of an active sulphur spring cave and ecosystem. J Cave Karst Studies 61:13–21. (Thanks to Wikipedia)