Melittin is one of the most studied α-helical cationic membrane disrupting peptides. It is the main component of bee venom, however it is considered an antimicrobial peptide for its ability to kill bacteria. Melittin is believed to act by opening large toroidal pores in the plasma membrane of the targeted cells/bacteria, although this is questioned by some authors. Little is known, however, about the molecular mechanism leading to this activity. In this study the mechanism of action of melittin was studied by dye leakage and quartz crystal microbalance fingerprinting analysis in biomimetic model membranes. The results revealed the existence of multiple stages in the membrane disrupting action with characteristic differences between different membrane types. In bacterial-mimetic (charged) lipid mixtures the viscoelastic fingerprints suggest a surface-acting mechanism, whereas in mammalian-mimetic (neutral) membranes melittin appears to penetrate the bilayer already at low concentrations. In domain-forming mixed membranes melittin shows a preference for the domain containing predominantly zwitterionic lipids. The results confirm membrane poration but are inconsistent with the insertion-to-toroidal pore pathway. Therefore hypotheses of the two membrane disrupting pathways were developed, describing the membrane disruption as either surface tension modulation leading to toroidal pore formation, or linear aggregation leading to fissure formation in the membrane.