Time-dependent behavior that follows from a recent theory of the quasi-single-helicity (QSH) state of the reversed field pinch is considered. The theory (Kim and Terry 2012 Phys. Plasmas 19 122304) treats QSH as a core fluctuation structure tied to a tearing mode of the same helicity, and shows that strong magnetic and velocity shears in the structure suppress the nonlinear interaction with other fluctuations. By summing the multiple helicity fluctuation energies over wavenumber, we reduce the theory to a predator-prey model. The suppression of the nonlinear interaction is governed by the single helicity energy, which, for fixed radial structure, controls the magnetic and velocity shearing rates. It is also controlled by plasma current which, in the theory, sets the shearing threshold for suppression. The model shows a limit cycle oscillation in which the system toggles between QSH and multiple helicity states, with the single helicity phase becoming increasingly long-lived relative to the multiple helicity phase as plasma current increases.