Chinese mantid Tenodera sinensis
The praying mantis, with its centaur body plan, head that swivels to look at you, and fierce raptorial forelegs is an immensely charismatic insect. I wonder how many (other) naturalists would list an early encounter with one of these creatures as an influence toward their studies. Even people who don't like insects like mantids (as we nature nerds call them), and today I had two different coworkers show me cellphone pics recording their encounters. One made a gesture indicating a length of 8 to 10 inches for the one she saw, which is of course impossible, but underscores how large these creatures are. In fact the Chinese mantid is the largest mantid found in North America--this individual was about four inches long. When you consider that their closest relatives are cockroaches, and what a likely human reaction would be to a four-inch cockroach, then the size seems to matter.
Alas, as you might have guessed, the Chinese mantid is not native to my yard or the region. Chinese mantids and a related European species are sold as beneficial predators at garden shops. They are more visible, if not more common, than native mantid species, and there is some worry that they are displacing North American mantids. I have mixed feelings about the Chinese mantid, since despite the harm they may be causing, they inspire awe and wonder about nature and insects.