Laboratory bioassays indicate that the bark beetle Ips pini employs flexible, rather than absolute, responses to phytochemicals in its host acceptance behavior. Each beetle's decision to enter substrate was influenced by the types and concentrations of monoterpenes present. However, previous rejection of a simulated host containing a moderate concentration of monoterpenes increased the likelihood that the same concentration would be accepted upon a second or third encounter. This flexibility more than offsets any loss of vigor due to starvation and age that accompanies a process of trial and error. Starvation decreased beetles' total lipid content, but beetles can recover some energetic losses by a small amount of feeding during each trial. In addition to its adaptive value, a flexible host acceptance strategy may yield population level consequences. That is, bark beetles preferentially enter trees having low concentrations of monoterpenes, but may modify their acceptance thresholds when cues associated with stressed trees are not available. This could partially explain how some tree-killing bark beetles colonize a broader physiological range of trees during outbreaks. The adaptive value of relating individual decisions to population density may arise from two ecological relationships: first, as populations rise, the pool of stressed trees is rapidly depleted; secondly, healthy trees are attainable through pheromone – mediated mass attacks when adequate numbers of beetles are present. Flexible host acceptance behaviors may also reduce the advantage of relying exclusively on pre-landing cues to distinguish between susceptible and non-susceptible trees.