As an example, the researchers said, a fly has the ability to avoid being swatted by a rolled-up newspaper because it can observe motion on a finer timescale than human eyes -- and muscles -- can achieve.
In contrast, they said, one species of tiger beetle runs faster after prey than its eyes can keep up, essentially making it blind and requiring it to stop periodically to re-evaluate the prey's position.
Researchers at two Scottish universities and Trinity College Dublin say they've found small animals with fast metabolic rates perceive more information in a unit of time and thus experience time more slowly than large-bodied animals with slow metabolic rates.
"Ecology for an organism is all about finding a niche where you can succeed that no one else can occupy," Trinity College Dublin researcher Andrew Jackson said. "Our results suggest that time perception offers an as yet unstudied dimension along which animals can specialize and there is considerable scope to study this system in more detail."
Animals that would be expected to be agile possess the most refined ability to see time at high resolutions, the researchers said.
The study findings "lend support to the importance of time perception in animals where the ability to perceive time on very small scales may be the difference between life and death for fast-moving organisms such as predators and their prey," Trinity doctoral student and study lead author Kevin Healy said.