For Small Animals, the World Looks Like ‘The Matrix’

We know by now that animals have varied senses and hear on different frequencies, but a new study has shown that an animal species’ size can determine how the animal sees and processes the surrounding world.

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD), the University of Edinburgh and the University of St. Andrews examined what’s called critical flicker fusion frequency, which measures how quickly the eye can process flashes of light and the lowest frequency of flashing light that is perceived as a constant light source.

The study, published in the journal Animal Behavior, examined more than 30 species and found a correlation to size. Small animals like birds and insects have a critical flicker fusion frequency that is much faster than ours, meaning they take in more information in the same unit of time than larger animals, leaving them with a sort of slow motion perception of their surroundings.

The results were plotted on a graph and showed a strong correlation between metabolic rate and how quickly different species could process information. Some of the fastest animals included starlings, pigeons and golden mantled ground squirrels. On the other end of the spectrum, the study showed that larger species with slower metabolisms, like leatherback sea turtles, saw the world a little more quickly and were more likely to miss fast movements.

Dr. Luke McNally, one of the researchers from the University of Edinburgh, compared it to trying to shoot Keanu Reeves in the Matrix when it comes to why it’s so hard to swat a fly.

“[For the fly] it feels like you are moving so slowly towards them. It’s the same as the famous bullet-time scene where the bullets are moving at this incredibly slow rate as far as Keanu is concerned,” he told the Independent.

For some species, the way they see the world and how quickly they can react to what’s happening around them can mean the difference between life and death. Researchers believe that temporal perception, or the way that animals process time, may be an evolutionary trade off between other capacities. “For example, predators of slow-moving prey may require less temporal resolution than predators that engage in active pursuit of fast-moving prey, such as raptors catching prey during flight.”

“Having eyes that send updates to the brain at much higher frequencies than our eyes do is of no value if the brain cannot process that information equally quickly. Hence, this work highlights the impressive capabilities of even the smallest animal brains. Flies might not be deep thinkers but they can make good decisions very quickly,” said Professor Graeme Ruxton of the University of St. Andrews.

McNally also noted that the ability to use visual cues that other species may not notice also gives some a “secret channel of communication.”

“We are beginning to understand that there is a whole world of detail out there that only some animals can perceive and it’s fascinating to think of how they might perceive the world differently to us,” said Andrew Jackson, assistant professor at the School of Natural Sciences at TCD.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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83 comments

Carrie-Anne Brown

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

Angela l.
angel l.2 years ago

I hope people should come to know that animals are not stupid I hear this statement "animals are stupid" quite too often that it upsets me, and I think that it is that person is stupid when he/she made this statement.

Donna Ferguson
Donna F.2 years ago

fascinating!

Sonali G.
Sonali G.2 years ago

interesting. I have always marvelled at the agility and speed of Starlings that come and feed in the garden. There are a few that have become quite familiar and will jump up and catch a food pellet flying through the air with great accuracy. Fantastic creatures

Kathy K.
Kathy K.2 years ago

Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

John Wesen
Past Member 2 years ago

Looks like it for me, too. :D

Ana Marija R.
Ana R2 years ago

Interesting post. Thank you!

Intan Surya Dawood

Interesting, thank you.

william Miller
william Miller2 years ago

awesome

DIane L.
DIane L.2 years ago

Wow, are not animals cool?