As a genre, "desk toys" are usually pretty corny, from Newton's Cradle sculptures to creepy meditation balls. But these tiny creatures—which are miniatures of the giant self-propelled sculptures designed by Dutch artist Theo Jansen—are anything but.
Jansen is best known for his huge moving creatures, which he calls Strandbeests. These incredible mechanisms, often made out of discarded materials, are feats of engineering: Each contains hundreds of moving parts that, together, allow it move through space of its own volition:
But in addition to the full-sized versions—which you should definitely check out—Jansen offers tiny, 3D-printed replicas for purchase on Shapeways. Gizmodo wrote about the creatures a few years back, but Jansen has since introduced some even more wonderful options.
For example, there's Animaris Geneticus Parvus, an £80 creature that skitters along on 20 long legs and 122 moving parts. Or Animaris Geneticus Gracilis, a new extra large strandbeest that was introduced a few months ago and is almost twice the size of the Parvus for just £9 more. You can add a wind propeller to this beast for £24, which lets it walk on its own without your guidance.
Then there's the £49 Larva, the smallest Strandbeest: At just 8 cm wide, it's something of a microscopic version of its elder brothers, just larger than a spider, but with 74 interlocking parts that make it no less complex. This little guy, Jansen says, "specialises in cuteness." [Shapeways]