The Ponerinae are a phylogenetically primitive subfamily (Hölldobler & Wilson 1990). All castes of the two ponerine genra found in Britain, Ponera and Hypoponera, are readily distinguishable from other British ants by the constriction between the first and second segments of their gasters. Ponerines are also the only ants in Britain with female castes that possess both a single-segmented petiole and a sting.Workers and queens of Ponera differ from those of Hypoponera in the form of the subpetiolar process (figured for both species by Bolton & Collingwood 1975, Collingwood 1979, and Czechowski et al. 2002). Males of Ponera are winged, whilst those of Hypoponera are wingless.The small light to dark brown workers have minute eyes and, like the generally larger queens, a well-developed sting. Pontin (2005) notes that specimens may be found in suitable habitat by sieving moss or using baits of minced meat, whilst Jones (2004) has collected the species from grass by suction sampling.
Ponera coarctata reaches the northern limit of its range in Britain. Here, records indicate that it is restricted to southern England and the south-east coast of Wales. It occurs in the Channel Islands but is not known from Ireland. Although a number of new British sites have been added for the species since it was last mapped by Barrett (1979), it probably remains under-recorded due to its cryptic habits. The map shows records for Ponera coarctata agg and may include some P. testacea records.
Elsewhere, P. coarctata occurs throughout central and southern Europe, also in southern parts of eastern Europe and in north-west Africa. Records from Asia Minor, the Caucasus and the Kopet-Dag Mountains may also refer to this species (Czechowski et al. 2002; Csõsz & Seifert 2003).