Black-backed meadow ant (Formica pratensis)

Black-backed meadow ants on nest
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Black-backed meadow ant fact file

Black-backed meadow ant description


The black-backed meadow ant (Formica pratensis) is a large wood ant, and resembles the more common southern wood ant (Formica rufa). The thorax shows some red colouration, but generally this species is much darker than its related species. The abdomen is dark brown to black and the whole insect is covered in fine hairs.

Length: 4.5 - 9.5 mm

Black-backed meadow ant biology

As this ant has always been rare in Britain, little is known about its life cycle. It is known that the black-backed meadow ants’ nests tend to be isolated from one another and have a single or very few queens. Nest mounds are small in comparison to other species of wood ant, and are constructed from small twigs, grasses and straw. The winged queens and males develop in the nest in early summer, and again, later in August or September.


Black-backed meadow ant range

This ant is widespread across Europe but is declining across the whole of its range. In the UK, the black-backed meadow ant has only been recorded from a small area around Bournemouth and Wareham in Dorset. It has not been seen there since 1988. There is however, a population on a cliff-top site on the Channel Islands.

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Black-backed meadow ant habitat

The black-backed meadow ant is a species associated with dry heathland or meadow land that have banks or verges in warm, sunny and sheltered locations.


Black-backed meadow ant status

The black-backed meadow ant is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1). It is listed in the Red Data Book 1, as Endangered (not recorded in the UK since 1988, and is presumed extinct).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Black-backed meadow ant threats

Lowland heathlands have been under threat as a habitat for most of the last century. With such a restricted range, the black-backed meadow ant has proved very vulnerable to the loss of its habitat. Urban development around Bournemouth has removed much of the Dorset heath, and encroachment of scrub on the remaining heaths has reduced the amount of suitable ground for nest sites. It is also thought that the invasion of the more competitive southern wood ant (Formica rufa) has contributed to the disappearance of the black-backed wood ant.


Black-backed meadow ant conservation

The black-backed wood ant is listed as a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP), and is included in English Nature’s Species Recovery Programme (SRP). As the ant has not been seen since 1988 on its last recorded site, Morden Bog National Nature Reserve, it may be that it is now extinct as a British species.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.


Information supplied by English Nature and authenticated by Bryan Pinchen (independent ecologist).



In arthropods (crustaceans, insects and arachnids) the abdomen is the hind region of the body, which is usually segmented to a degree (but not visibly in most spiders). In crustacea (e.g. crabs) some of the limbs attach to the abdomen; in insects the limbs are attached to the thorax (the part of the body nearest to the head) and not the abdomen. In vertebrates the abdomen is the part of the body that contains the internal organs (except the heart and lungs).
Part of the body located near the head in animals. In insects, the three segments between the head and the abdomen, each of which has a pair of legs.


  1.  IUCN Red List (April, 2011)

Image credit

Black-backed meadow ants on nest  
Black-backed meadow ants on nest

© Roger Key

Dr Roger Key
Tel: +44 (0) 1845 567 292


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