Social organisation of colonies was examined in the ant Formica cinerea by estimating the coefficient of genetic relatedness among worker nest mates. The estimates based on microsatellite genotypes at three loci ranged from values close to zero to 0.61 across the populations studied in Finland. These results showed that a fundamental feature of colonies, the number of reproductive queens, varied greatly among the populations. Colonies in some populations had a single queen, whereas the nests could have a high number number of queens in other populations. There was a weak but non-significant correlation between the genetic and metric distance of nests within two populations with intermediate level of relatedness. Differentiation among nearby populations (within the dispersal distance of individuals) in one locality indicated limited dispersal or founder effects. This could occur when females are philopatric and stay in the natal polygynous colony which expands by building a network of nest galleries within a single habitat patch.