Nearly all herbivorous arthropods make foraging-decisions on individual leaves, yet systematic investigations of the adaptive significance and ecological factors structuring these decisions are rare with most attention given to chewing herbivores. This study investigated why an intracellular feeding herbivore, Western flower thrips (WFT) Frankliniella occidentalis Pergande, generally avoids feeding on the adaxial leaf surface of cotton cotyledons. WFT showed a significant aversion to adaxial-feeding even when excised-cotyledons were turned up-side (abaxial-side 'up'), suggesting that negative-phototaxis was not a primary cause of thrips foraging patterns. No-choice bioassays in which individual WFT females were confined to either the abaxial or adaxial leaf surface showed that 35% fewer offspring were produced when only adaxial feeding was allowed, which coincided with 32% less plant feeding on that surface. To test the hypothesis that leaf biomechanical properties inhibited thrips feeding on the adaxial surface, we used a penetrometer to measure two variables related to the 'toughness' of each leaf surface. Neither variable negatively co-varied with feeding. Thus, while avoiding the upper leaf surface was an adaptive foraging strategy, the proximate cause remains to be elucidated, but is likely due, in part, to certain leaf properties that inhibit feeding. © 2013 Fiene et al.