Aceria tosichella (the wheat curl mite, WCM) is a global pest of wheat and other cereals, causing losses by direct damage, as well as the transmission of plant viruses. The mite is considered to have an unusually wide host range for an eriophyoid species. The present study tested the commonly held assumption that WCM is a single, highly polyphagous species by assessing the host range of genetically distinct lineages of WCM occurring in Poland on different host plants. Genotyping was performed by analyzing nucleotide sequence data from fragments of the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) and the nuclear D2 region of 28S rDNA. Mean between-lineage distance estimated using COI data was found to be one order of magnitude greater than the within-clade lineage and, in some cases, comparable to distances between WCM lineages and a congeneric outgroup species. Host acceptance was tested by quantifying population growth for different WCM mitochondrial (mt)DNA lineages when transferred from source host plants to test plants. These experiments revealed significant differences in host colonization ability between mtDNA lineages, ranging from highly polyphagous to more host-specific. The present study reveals that WCM is composed of several discrete genetic lineages with divergent host-acceptance and specificity traits. Genetic variation for host acceptance within A. tosichella s.l. may act as a reproductive barrier between these lineages, most of which had narrow host ranges. Two lineages appear to have high pest potential on cereals, whereas several others appear to specialize on wild grass species. We conclude that WCM is not a homogeneous species comprising polyphagous panmictic populations rather it is a complex of genetically distinct lineages with variable host ranges and therefore variable pest potential. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2013, 109, 165–180.