If you've ever sat puzzling over a fly's ability to outmanoeuvre your swift slap of death almost every. single. time — puzzle no more. According to science, you're just measly Agent Smith to the bug's Neo; new research shows that a creature's perception of time is directly related to its size, meaning flies live in a world where time passes as if in slow motion.
But how can we possibly know what's going on in that fly's itty bitty brain? It's all more or less thanks to something called "critical flicker fusion frequency", which is basically an animal's ability to detect distinct flashes of flickering light before they appear to merge together. And that point at which the lights fuse together offers insight into that subject's perception of time. As Dr Andrew Jackson (his real name) from Trinity College Dublin in the Republic of Ireland told The Guardian:
Interestingly, there's a large difference between big and small species. Animals smaller than us see the world in slo-mo. It seems to be almost a fact of life. Our focus was on vertebrates, but if you look at flies, they can perceive light flickering up to four times faster than we can. You can imagine a fly literally seeing everything in slow motion.
The study, which was published in Animal Behaviour, looked at 30 different species in total, including rodents, eels, lizards, chickens, pigeons, dogs, cats and leatherback turtles. But more than just offering interspecies insight, this news also provides an explanation for why children always seem to be speeding around to adults (who often complain of time seeming to speed up with age). Jackson added:
It's tempting to think that for children time moves more slowly than it does for grownups, and there is some evidence that it might. People have shown in humans that flicker fusion frequency is related to a person's subjective perception of time, and it changes with age. It's certainly faster in children.
And just as that might suggest, the study supports the notion that the various perceptions of time in different animals is directly linked to the "difference between life and death". Not only in terms of ageing but also how certain animals manage to avoid predators. For instance, fireflies use flashing lights as signals that larger animals might not even be able to see due to their quicker perception of time — like a secret code for the perennially quick.
And while it might seem like a pretty weak perk for getting a shorter lifespan, remember: to the fly, it's been a full happy life — that is, assuming you can't catch him. Plus, this could finally explain why an elephant never forgets. Because if you're an elephant, everything just happened. [The Guardian]