The effect of experience on pre- and post-alighting host selection in adult female Helicoverpa armigera was tested in an indoor flight cage, and in a large greenhouse. The moths had experienced either tobacco or tomato plants (both are hosts of H. armigera) for 3 days, or were given no experience. Individuals were then released and their host selection assessed. All individuals caught in the greenhouse were identified and tested for post-alighting acceptance on each host. Experience significantly influenced both pre- and post-alighting host selection in ovipositing moths. This modification in behaviour is attributed to 'learning', and presents the first detailed evidence for learning in moths. Possible behavioural mechanisms involved are discussed, and a hypothesis is presented regarding learning in post-alighting host acceptance. The existence of learning in H. armigera, a highly polyphagous agricultural pest, is discussed in the light of current theories on environmental predictability and the advantages of learning. Copyright 1998 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.