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Future optical communication networks are expected to change radically during the next decade. To meet the demanded bandwidth requirements, more dynamism, scalability and automatism will need to be provided. This will also require addressing issues such as the design of highly distributed control plane systems and their associated algorithms to respond to network changes very rapidly. In this work, we propose the use of an ant colony optimization (ACO) algorithm to solve the intrinsic problem of the routing and wavelength assignment (RWA) on wavelength continuity constraint optical networks. The main advantage of the protocol is its distributed nature, which provides higher survivability to network failures or traffic congestion. The protocol has been applied to a specific type of future optical network based on the optical switching of bursts. It has been evaluated through extensive simulations with very promising results, particularly on highly congested scenarios where the load balancing capabilities of the protocol become especially efficient. Results on a partially meshed network like NSFNET show that the ant-based protocol outperforms other RWA algorithms under test in terms of blocking probability without worsening other metrics such as mean route length.