While fireflies were harvested for their light-producing chemicals in the U.S., in Japan fireflies were harvested for their beauty. In Japan’s Shiga Prefecture, many firefly merchants set up shop very summer from the early 1800s through the 1920s. They hired hunters to collect genji-botaru (Luciola cruciata) fireflies, which they sold to clients in Osaka, Tokyo, and Kyoto. Hotel and restaurant owners released these wild-caught fireflies into their gardens, where customers would pay to enjoy their luminous beauty.
By some estimates, firefly vendors sold three million wild insects to city folk every June and July. Soon, firefly populations began to dwindle due to over-collecting, river pollution, and habitat loss.
Silent Sparks describes the ecohistory of Japanese and U.S. fireflies, including some successful conservation efforts.