[A raised forefoot while immobile and staring often indicates uncertainty. This full-frame photo shows an alert young squirrel fixating the camera with hesitation. In the next frame it resumed eating sunflower seeds.]
Many animals are cautious or fearful of unfamiliar objects or situations. This healthy response to the unknown is called neophobia or “fear of the new”.
I believe that neophobia was the reason my first camera trap pictures of gray fox were in the distance or half out of the frame. After a few weeks the animal(s) approached more closely, and finally became bold enough to examine the camera at close range.
[A jackrabbit assumes a startled stance in reaction to the camera trap. The widely spaced rear feet indicates it is prepared to bolt.]
If there is bait near the camera you might read ambivalence in a neophobic animal’s body language.
The attraction to the food is strong, but so is the hesitation to approach the strange object near by. The animal may stare at the camera, or stretch its body and creep forward as though it wants to approach and back off at the same time.
Or it may approach and sniff toward the camera, then circle and test the air from a different direction. These are manifestations of approach-avoidance conflict.
Caution wanes quickly when repeated exposure to a strange object proves harmless. Since there are neither positive nor negative consequences, the animal habituates to the stimulus.
Habituation is why we don’t often see neophobic or avoidance–conflict reactions in camera trap photos.
Also, habituation usually defeats the clever tinkerer who cooks up various repellents for garbage-can bears and bird-feeder squirrels. Fearful reactions wane, unless the repellent is painful or extremely disturbing . The animals habituate.
[A jackrabbit in a normal resting stance in its form (nest). The animal habituated to the camera which was staked closer to the nest on three successive nights while the animal was absent. The camera recorded its daily cycle of rest, grooming, and defecation for a week without apparent disturbance.]