Thursday, January 3, 2008

Observations on the Behavior of the Malaysian 2 Wheeled, Sandal Footed Moto Sikal Bird

In 2005, I had an assignment in Malaysia. I was staying on the southern tip of the peninsula in Johor Bahru and commuting about one hour each way to the fab yard. I was struck by the numbers of small motor scooters and how crazily their drivers acted in the heavy traffic which included many 18 wheel palm oil tanker trucks. I decided to write a tongue in cheek scientific paper describing their behavior.

The Malaysian Moto Sikal can be identified by their peculiar feet. The feet have a rubberized sole which attaches between the 1st and 2nd metacarpal. Their feet may have been the model for the slipper known as the "flip flop". The male of the species may appear to be flying backwards because he will often wear his jacket with the back facing forwards. This is an obvious evolutionary adaptation to fool predators into thinking he is heading in a different direction. (More research is needed to determine if this trait is learned from the American White Gangsta Wannabe, who is known to reverse their headdress) The head and beak may be encased in a rigid, bony exoskeleton but this is not common. However, it was observed that those individuals who have made this adaptation tend to survive in the wild longer than those who have not. This is especially true of individuals in flocks that gather near Truckus Maximus or Vehiculata Sedanus.

While the Malaysian Moto Sikal does not fly in formation, they will gather in groups at stop lights and intersections. There does not appear to any hierarchy to their formation as the last to arrive is just as likely to force his way to the front of the pack by careful weaving and jockeying. Groups of them will often surround V. Sedanus who is powerless to attack them unless he is in motion. They will then take flight together but split up when overtaken by V. Sedanus. This behavior confuses the Sedanus. By splitting apart into many separate targets, the slow witted predator cannot pick out any single individual. Sometimes, they will also emit a noxious gas from their anus. This blinds the predator, causing him to slow down and lose sight of his prey

The Malaysian Moto Sikal is not as large or as powerful as its American or European cousins. Their flight mechanism is small, usually no more than 150 cc. This means the Sikal cannot outrun its predators and must rely upon reflexes and wit to survive. The separation behavior mentioned above is one example of this. Many appear to taunt T. Maximus and V. Sedanus by flying close to them and swerving directly in front of them as if to say “You can’t catch me!” This serves to cull out the slower of the species as they end up as greasy spot under T. Maximus. It is a current day example of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

While the Sikals mating rituals were not observed, it was common to see the female of the species flying closely attached to the back of the male. Rarely, one could see a pair carrying their young sandwiched between them. One wonders if this behavior tends to eliminate entire family units from the gene pool, but this was not observed in the wild.

Coloration is not an identifying trait. The Moto Sikal can appear in any coloration at any time of the season. Some are seen in brilliant colors and corporate logos. It was not clear if this was some sort of novel advertising campaign, a form of tagging for tracking purposes, or the individual deciding to wear whatever was handy. However, most tend to wear dark colors making them difficult to see at night. While they have a unique gland that has a light projecting capability, some prefer not to use it opting instead for stealth.

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