The ‘dear enemy phenomenon’ predicts that territorial animals respond less aggressively towards more familiar neighbours than towards unfamiliar conspecifics if potential losses to strangers are more costly than potential losses to neighbours. Conversely, territorial animals should respond more aggressively to neighbours, if potential losses to them are more costly than potential losses to strangers. In social insects the question of how colony members distinguish neighbours from strangers, however, is intertwined with the more general question of how colony members discriminate themselves from non-colony members; both genetic and spatial distance can correlate with levels of inter-colonial aggression. In this paper I disentangle the role of experience, genetic and spatial distance on inter-colonial aggression in a polydomous population of Iridomyrmex purpureus. In I. purpureus, aggression is related to the spatial distance between colonies irrespective of genetic similarity. Spatial distance affected aggression in two different ways. First, workers were more likely to exhibit aggression towards alien conspecifics of adjoining rather than non-adjoining territories, suggesting the opposite of the dear enemy phenomenon. Second, workers were more often aggressive towards conspecifics of more distant colonies, implying that environmental cues play a role in the recognition system of I. purpureus.