Borrelia burgdorferi has demonstrated a capacity to resist the in vitro effects of powerful eukaryotic and prokaryotic metabolic inhibitors. However, treatment of laboratory cultures on Barbour-Stoenner-Kelly medium with melittin, a 26-amino acid peptide contained in honeybee venom, showed immediate and profound inhibitory effects when they were monitored by dark-field microscopy, field emission scanning electron microscopy, and optical density measurements. Furthermore, at melittin concentrations as low as 100 microg/mL, virtually all spirochete motility ceased within seconds of inhibitor addition. Ultrastructural examination of these spirochetes by scanning electron microscopy revealed obvious alterations in the surface envelope of the spirochetes. The extraordinary sensitivity of B. burgdorferi to mellitin may provide both a research reagent useful in the study of selective permeability in microorganisms and important clues to the development of effective new drugs against lyme disease.