Various, non-exclusive mechanisms have been invoked to explain the observed association between host plant use and speciation in insect species. In the Afrotropical genus Ceratitis (Diptera: Tephritidae), morphological, molecular, and biochemical data suggest that evolutionary radiation of stenophagous clades originates from their ability to exploit toxic hosts. To test whether, and to what extent, the development and fitness of Ceratitis fasciventris, a polyphagous congener known to infest over 43 host species, is adversely affected by host plant toxicity, we compared the rates of development, survival, and reproduction of captive bred individuals in four media that differ in alkaloid concentration. Despite reduced pupal and adult sizes, C. fasciventris larvae developing under low alkaloid concentrations successfully developed to the adult stage, probably as a result of accelerated pupation and ensuing restricted exposure to the toxic environment. High alkaloid concentrations, however, impaired their developmental process and prevented subsequent reproduction. The adverse effects of host plant toxicity on larval development in polyphagous fruit flies indicate that high alkaloid concentrations pose a significant constraint on host use by polyphagous Ceratitis species. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 97, 728–737.