Recent theoretical studies have suggested that host range in herbivorous insects may be more restricted by constraints on information processing on the ovipositing females than by trade–offs in larval feeding efficiency. We have investigated if females from polyphagous species have to pay for their ability to localize and evaluate plants from different species with a lower ability to discriminate between conspecific host plants with differences in quality. Females of the monophagous butterflies Polygonia satyrus, Vanessa indica and Inachis io and the polyphagous P. c–album and Cynthia cardui (all in Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae) were given a simultaneous choice of stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) of different quality. In addition, the same choice trial was given to females from two populations of P. c–album with different degrees of specificity. As predicted from the information processing hypothesis, all specialists discriminated significantly against the bad quality nettle, whereas the generalists laid an equal amount of eggs on both types of nettle. There were no corresponding differences between specialist and generalist larvae in their ability to utilize poor quality leaves. Our study therefore suggests that female host–searching behaviour plays an important role in determining host plant range.