The traditional emphasis when measuring performance in animal cognition has been overwhelmingly on accuracy, independent of decision time. However, more recently, it has become clear that tradeoffs exist between decision speed and accuracy in many ecologically relevant tasks, for example, prey and predator detection and identification; pollinators choosing between flower species; and spatial exploration strategies. Obtaining high-quality information often increases sampling time, especially under noisy conditions. Here we discuss the mechanisms generating such speed-accuracy tradeoffs, their implications for animal decision making (including signalling, communication and mate choice) and the significance of differences in decision strategies among species, populations and individuals. The ecological relevance of such tradeoffs can be better understood by considering the neuronal mechanisms underlying decision-making processes.