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Since sensors are energy-limited in a wireless sensor network (WSN), how to balance the energy consumption among the sensors in the network so as to prolong the lifetime of the whole network is a critical research topic in the development of WSNs. In this paper, a novel ant routing optimization (ARO) algorithm is proposed for taking advantage of the redundant sensors in the network to help relay the sensed data traffic to the sink. By choosing suitable relay nodes, the lifetime of the sensing sensors are extended, resulting in the extension of the whole network lifetime. The ARO algorithm searches energy-efficient routing trees by considering the energy consumption of sensing, data transmission and reception. Simulation results show that ARO finds much better routing trees than the minimum transmission energy routing scheme.