Nonenveloped viruses often invade membranes by exposing hydrophobic or amphipathic peptides generated by a proteolytic maturation step that leaves a lytic peptide noncovalently associated with the viral capsid. Since multiple copies of the same protein form many nonenveloped virus capsids, it is unclear if lytic peptides derived from subunits occupying different positions in a quasi-equivalent icosahedral capsid play different roles in host infection. We addressed this question with Nudaurelia capensis omega virus (NωV), an insect RNA virus with an icosahedral capsid formed by protein α, which undergoes autocleavage during maturation, producing the lytic γ peptide. NωV is a unique model because autocatalysis can be precisely initiated in vitro and is sufficiently slow to correlate lytic activity with γ peptide production. Using liposome-based assays, we observed that autocatalysis is essential for the potent membrane disruption caused by NωV. We observed that lytic activity is acquired rapidly during the maturation program, reaching 100% activity with less than 50% of the subunits cleaved. Previous time-resolved structural studies of partially mature NωV particles showed that, during this time frame, γ peptides derived from the pentamer subunits are produced and are organized in a vertical helical bundle that is projected toward the particle surface, while identical polypeptides in quasi-equivalent subunits are produced later or are in positions inappropriate for release. Our functional data provide experimental support for the hypothesis that pentamers containing a central helical bundle, observed in different nonenveloped virus families, are a specialized lytic motif.