The pace and trajectory of coevolutionary arms races between parasites and their hosts are strongly influenced by the number of interacting species. In environments where a parasite has access to more than one host species, the parasite population may become divided in preference for a particular host. In the present study, we show that individual colonies of the pirate ant Polyergus breviceps differ in host preference during raiding, with each colony specializing on only one of two available Formica host species. Moreover, through genetic analyses, we show that the two hosts differ in their colony genetic structure. Formica occulta colonies were monogynous, whereas Formica sp. cf. argentea colonies were polygynous and polydomous (colonies occupy multiple nest sites). This difference has important implications for coevolutionary dynamics in this system because raids against individual nests of polydomous colonies have less impact on overall host colony fitness than do attacks on intact colonies. We also used primers that we designed for four microsatellite loci isolated from P. breviceps to verify that colonies of this species, like other pirate ants, are comprised of simple families headed by one singly mated queen. © 2007 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2007, 91, 565–572.