The mechanism of pore formation of lytic peptides, such as melittin from bee venom, is thought to involve binding to the membrane surface, followed by insertion at threshold levels of bound peptide. We show that in membranes composed of zwitterionic lipids, i.e. phosphatidylcholine, melittin not only forms pores but also inhibits pore formation. We propose that these two modes of action are the result of two competing reactions: direct insertion into the membrane and binding parallel to the membrane surface. The direct insertion of melittin leads to pore formation, whereas the parallel conformation is inactive and prevents other melittin molecules from inserting, hence preventing pore formation.