This species is outwardly similar to others in the Formica rufa-group and is commonly known as the Scottish wood ant.
Formica aquilonia is restricted to the Scottish Highlands and two localities in Co. Armagh in Ireland. In Scotland the species is recorded from around the Firth of Clyde, through the Central and Western Highlands, Tayside and the Grampians, as far north as Ross and East Sutherland. It is also recorded from the Isle of Skye and reported from the Isle of Arran. Its range in Scotland overlaps that of the northern wood ant, Formica lugubris and so care is needed to distinguish these species. Where it is found, F. aquilonia may be locally common and it is probably under-recorded in the remoter parts of Scotland.
The range of the species extends across northern Europe and Scandinavia to Siberia, it is also found in cooler mountain regions of central Europe and Asia.