One of the mound-building ‘wood ants’ (Formica s. str.), F. pratensis has always been the least frequently recorded species of this group in Britain. The confused nomenclature of the four British representatives of this group, and the morphological distinctions between them, have been considered by Yarrow (1955). In Europe, two forms of F. pratensis may be recognised (Kutter 1977; Seifert 1996). Although these have been treated as separate species (F. pratensis and F. nigricans) by some authors, Bolton (1995) and Seifert (1996) include them both in F. pratensis.
On the British mainland, F. pratensis has been recorded only from the Bournemouth area and Dorset heathland near Wareham. It occurs on the Channel Islands, but is absent from Ireland. Elsewhere, it is known from Portugal to central Asia, and from central Sweden to central Italy (Collingwood 1979).