Aggressive encounters occur between competitors (particularly males) throughout the animal kingdom, and in some species can result in severe injury and death. Here we describe for the first time lethal interactions between male nematodes and provide evidence that the expression of this behaviour is developmentally controlled. Males of the entomopathogenic nematode Steinernema longicaudum coil around each other, resulting in injuries, paralysis and frequently death. The probability of death occurring between pairs of males was affected by the developmental pathway followed, being much greater among males that had passed through the infective juvenile (IJ, or dauer) stage than among males that had not. Post-IJ males are found only in newly colonised hosts, typically with few competing males present. Killing those few competitors may secure valuable resources (both females and a host cadaver for nourishment of offspring). Non-IJ males develop in subsequent generations within a host cadaver, where the presence of many closely related male competitors increases the risk:benefit ratio of fighting. Thus, passage through the IJ stage primes males for enhanced aggression in circumstances where this is more likely to result in increased reproductive success. Fighting occurred between males developing in mixed-sex social groups, indicating that it is an evolved trait and not an abnormal response to absence of females. This is supported by finding high mortality of males, but not of females, across a range of population densities in insect cadavers. We propose that these nematodes, with their relatively simple organization, may be a useful model for studies of aggression.