Although indirect effects of solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation on insects are well known (e.g. UV radiation can modify plant chemistry), direct effects of solar radiation on insects have received little attention. Radiation in the UVB range (300–320 nm) is damaging because it is absorbed directly by proteins and DNA. UVB should be toughest on immobile or small life stages, such as eggs or early larval instars. In the present study, the effects of UVB radiation on eggs and larvae of the tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta L. (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) are examined. The present study aimed to address: what natural levels of UV do they experience; how does UVB affect the performance of eggs; and how does it affect the performance of larvae? In addition, do M. sexta larvae use behaviour to avoid UVB exposure and, consequently, are they physiologically less robust to UVB? In these experiments, eggs and late larval instars of M. sexta are found to be robust to natural levels of UV radiation. By contrast, young larvae are not only more susceptible to damage from UVB, but also they use behavioural means to avoid it. The strategy of using behaviour may relax selection pressures on morphological and physiological mechanisms for preventing (or recovering from) damage by environmental UV radiation.