Laboratory studies were conducted to determine the effects of suboptimal prey density and length of prey-deprivation period on swimming, feeding, and social behavior in larval American shad. Alosa sapidissima. Replicated prey-density treatments of 1,000, 500, and 0 Artemia nauplii/liter and deprivation periods of 0,2, and 4 days were established for an 8-day period. The duration or frequency of 11 behavior patterns was quantified with an event recorder during the experiment. Exposure to suboptimal prey densities affected three categories of larval behavior: swimming activities (pivot and dart), interaction with other larvae (escape or avoid), and stereotypical feeding responses (sigmoid and lunge). Location of a food patch, simulated by the sudden introduction of prey to aquaria, affected the frequency of feeding responses more than other categories of behavior. The patch model was supported as a foraging strategy in larvae. The ontogeny of prey deprivation was evidenced primarily by changes in swimming activity (reduced pivot and dart frequencies), though feeding responses (particularly fixate) were also diminished. Deprivation-induced loss of pivot and fixate was an irreversible, pathological effect of starvation. Deprivation also resulted in greater vertical orientation (head up, 42°) of larvae than non-deprived larvae (21–29°). These changes in behavior may result in less effective escape from predators, location of food patches, or pursuit and capture of prey items in riverine habitats.