The role glucosinolates play in defending plants against phloem feeders such as aphids and whiteflies is currently not clear as these herbivores may avoid bringing glucosinolates from the phloem sap into contact with myrosinase enzymes. Here, we investigated the effects of high levels of aliphatic and indolic glucosinolates on life history traits and detoxification gene expression in two sibling species, B and Q, of the whitefly Bemisia tabaci. High levels of aliphatic glucosinolates decreased the average oviposition rate of both species and reduced the survival and developmental rate of Q nymphs. High levels of indolic glucosinolates decreased the oviposition rate and survival of nymphal stages of the B species and the developmental rate of both species. Molecular analyses revealed two major asymmetries between the B and Q species. First, specific GST genes (BtGST1 and BtGST2) were significantly induced during exposure to indolic glucosinolates only in Q. This may reflect the genes putative involvement in indolic glucosinolates detoxification and explain the species’ good performance on plants accumulating indolic glucosinolates. Second, the constitutive expression of eight of the 10 detoxification genes analysed was higher in the Q species than in the B species. Interestingly, four of these genes were induced in B in response to high levels of glucosinolates. It seems, therefore, that the B and Q species differ in their ‘optimal defence strategy’. B utilizes inducible defences that are profitable if the probability of experiencing the stress is small and its severity is low, while Q invests significant resources in being always ‘ready’ for a challenge.