Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are generalist pollinators that forage for nectar and pollen of a very large variety of plant species, exposing them to a diverse range of secondary metabolites produced as chemical defences against herbivory. Honey bees can tolerate high levels of many of these toxic compounds, including the alkaloid nicotine, in their diet without incurring apparent fitness costs. Very little is known about the underlying detoxification processes mediating this tolerance. We examined the metabolic fate of nicotine in newly emerged worker bees using radiolabeled nicotine and LC-MS/MS analysis to determine the kinetic distribution profile of nicotine as well as the absence or presence and identity of any nicotine-derived metabolites. Nicotine metabolism was extensive; virtually no unmetabolised nicotine were recovered from the rectum. The major metabolite found was 4-hydroxy-4-(3-pyridyl) butanoic acid, the end product of 2'C-oxidation of nicotine. It is the first time that 4-hydroxy-4-(3-pyridyl) butanoic acid has been identified in an insect as a catabolite of nicotine. Lower levels of cotinine, cotinine N-oxide, 3'hydroxy-cotinine, nicotine N-oxide and norcotinine were also detected. Our results demonstrated that formation of 4-hydroxy-4-(3-pyridyl) butanoic acid is quantitatively the most significant pathway of nicotine metabolism in honey bees and that the rapid excretion of unmetabolised nicotine does not contribute significantly to nicotine tolerance in honey bees. In nicotine-tolerant insects that do not rely on the rapid excretion of nicotine like the Lepidoptera, it is possible that the 2'C-oxidation of nicotine is the conserved metabolic pathway instead of the generally assumed 5'C-oxidation pathway.