Abstract. 1. Theoretical models predict that ovipositional decisions of parasitoid females should lead to the selection of the most profitable host for parasitoid development. Most parasitoid species have evolved specific adaptations to exploit a single host stage. However, females of the aphid hyperparasitoid Syrphophagous aphidivorus (Mayr) (Hymenoptera: Encyrtidae) display a unique and atypical oviposition behaviour by attacking either primary parasitoid larvae in live aphids, or parasitoid pupae in dead, mummified aphids.
2. In the laboratory, the correlation between host suitability and host preference of S. aphidivorus on the host Aphidius nigripes Ashmead parasitising the aphid Macrosiphum euphorbiae (Thomas) was investigated.
3. The relative suitability of the two host stages was determined by measuring hyperparasitoid fitness parameters (survival, development time, fecundity, sex ratio, and adult size of progeny), and calculating the intrinsic rate of population increase (rm). Host preference by S. aphidivorus females and the influence of aphid defence behaviour on host selection was also examined.
4. Hyperparasitoid offspring performance was highest when developing from hosts in aphid mummies and females consistently preferred this host to hosts in parasitised aphids. Although aphid defensive behaviour may influence host selection, it was not a determining factor. Ecological and evolutionary processes that might have led to dual oviposition behaviour in S. aphidivorus are discussed.