Insecticides are thought to be among the major factors contributing to current declines in bee
populations. However, detoxification mechanisms in healthy, unstressed honey bees are poorly
characterised. Alkaloids are naturally encountered in pollen and nectar, and we used nicotine as a
model compound to identify the mechanisms involved in detoxification processes in honey bees.
Nicotine and neonicotinoids have similar modes of action in insects. Our metabolomic and proteomic
analyses show active detoxification of nicotine in bees, associated with increased energetic
investment and also antioxidant and heat shock responses. The increased energetic investment is
significant in view of the interactions of pesticides with diseases such as Nosema spp which cause
energetic stress and possible malnutrition. Understanding how healthy honey bees process dietary
toxins under unstressed conditions will help clarify how pesticides, alone or in synergy with other
stress factors, lead to declines in bee vitality.