We describe the design and experimental characterization of two optimized thermal actuators devised to operate by means of scavenging heat from the environment. Different from the traditional MEMS thermal actuator that relies on electric current to generate heat by Joule effect, the devices presented here are optimized to absorb external heat and convert it into mechanical displacement and force. The behavior of vertical and horizontal microactuators fabricated in a standard surface micromachining process (PolyMUMPs, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina) demonstrates the viability of exploiting heat from the surrounding medium to realize batteryless microsystems. Analytical and finite element models are provided in support of the design. Results show that fairly large and useful displacements can be achieved at commonly available operating temperatures.