Constructed from plastic PVC tubing, zip ties, and string, strandbeests are the ultimate in humble down-home DIY. But they come to life with animal grace the second they begin to move: Wings flap. Tubular muscles extend. Knobby knees flex. Feet lift. Wind is gulped and stored for energy.
The beach animals’ simple parts belie their complex construction and behaviors. Mechanical nerves trigger reflexes that border on thought. Always, survival is the goal. One beest detects an incoming tide, turns, and beats a retreat to higher ground. Another, sensing the high winds of a storm, pounds an anchor into the sand to keep itself from blowing away.
The product of a 25-year lineage of ongoing evolution, each species of strandbeest bears a Latin name reflective of its unique character and adaptations. Animaris Currens Vaporis, or “walking steam animal,” puffs like a steam engine. Animaris Vermiculus, or “worm animal,” wriggles like its namesake. Newer species retain the successful anatomical features of their predecessors, while shedding what fails to serve.
Explore the 25-year lineage of the beach animals here, and see how evolution and innovation in form, tools, and technique—the haphazard lessons of sheer trial and error—have shaped the strandbeests over time.
The Blind Watchmaker With Paul Stepahin
Theo Jansen’s strandbeests are made up of many interesting organs. They have legs that take elegant strides. They have stomachs to store energy, allowing them to walk even when there’s no wind. They can even detect water and count their steps. Explore strandbeest anatomy and what it reveals about living creatures and the process of natural selection.