In the Firefly universe, there are a group of monstrous, man-eating madmen known as the Reavers.

There are many myths spinning around their origin, one of the most prevalent being that they traveled to the end of universe and went mad after staring into the nothingness.

During one Firefly episode, the crew discovers a stranded vessel that was attacked by Reavers. Onboard they find slaughtered people, while one of them apparently was forced by the Reavers to watch the whole thing. I am not certain I remember that part right, but Raynolds explains that that is how they recruit new "members" (by turning them crazy).

However, in the movie Serenity it is explained that the Reaver state is a side effect of a drug meant to calm the population of the planet Miranda.

To me that seems to contradict the explanation presented before. I find it hard to believe they can mimic the results of the drug by driving someone mad "manually".

So how do the Reavers actually grow in numbers? Do they recruit new members by turning them mad? Do they reproduce the old fashioned way? Or do they not recruit at all and all the Reavers we see are actually original inhabitants of Miranda?

  • 3
    It was never explained beyond what you and I both saw in the (only) season of Firefly, and then expanded upon in Serenity. I never read the graphic novels or any other written works based in the universe. We'll never know.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 14:18
  • Well, things like Sheperd Book's past were explained outside of show and movie, so I guess there is a chance of some additional info or at least a convincing theory. I mainly was confused that the explanation in the movie seems to contradict what we learned in the show and hope there is an in-universe way to make the parts fit together.
    – magnattic
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 15:42
  • Q: "How do the Reavers reproduce?" A: Very carefully!
    – ltcomdata
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 16:08

2 Answers 2


I don't have any official sources to cite, but my guess is that the Reavers' ships contain air from Miranda's atmosphere, and that it still carries traces of the drug. When they dock with another ship the drug in their air diffuses into that ship, and transforms anyone there with the genetic susceptibility. Of course the Reavers butcher everyone else, and to casual observers it would seem like some small percentage of people on the ship were driven mad by the carnage.

The Reavers do seem to direct all of their aggression to non-Reavers, and therefore must have the ability to recognize one another despite their berserker rage. Since they leave the newly transformed Reavers alive they must be able to recognize another Reaver even if he or she doesn't look or act like one yet.

My one nagging question from the Firefly episode was why did the attacking Reavers leave the new Reaver behind? One possible answer is they expected that when he fully transformed, he would pilot the ship back to Miranda. However there is no clue given as to how he would be able to find it. Homing instinct? Telepathy? We'll never know.

  • Interesting and cool theory! Two problems: 1. The drug being so long-lived in the air of the ships seems like a stretch, unless the Reavers somehow produce it. (maybe it's contagious?) 2. In Serenity they said that the drug affects only 0.1% in that way, for most people it worked calming (too good even).
    – magnattic
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 15:38
  • Yes, the percentage of susceptible individuals is one in a thousand, and finding such a one on a boarded ship would be a rare occurrence. Others on the boarded ships might very well have exhibited the calming response, but nobody who arrived on the scene afterward would know about that since all that is left are the butchered remains. Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 15:45
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    Ok good point. But the Firefly crew checked the atmosphere in the ship and decided it was okay. Also they did not experience any effect while on board. Could be that it just does not work that fast. I'm still not sold on the drug staying in the ships for so long, though, especially if they regularly dock other ships. How long ago was the Miranda incident?
    – magnattic
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 15:51
  • 2
    My theory depends on the Reavers going back to Miranda between raids and taking on more of Miranda's air. (We see in the movie that there are swarms of Reaver ships in orbit above Miranda, and that they are capable of landing there.) Maybe they disable the air purifiers on their ships, just as they disable the "containment" on their engines. That might cause the drug to persist in their own ships' air, but not in the ships they board and leave. (I know there are a lot of assumptions here. I think this explanation is internally consistent.) Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 16:13
  • Or the drug changes the reavers repository system so that they're constantly breathing it out. After they've gone it breaks down relatively quickly but whilst there it could convert survivors?
    – DX101
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 12:28

There is no evidence that Reavers reproduce or grow their numbers at all.

There is nothing in canon to indicate that the Reavers' numbers are growing at all. The recording on Miranda (linked below) indicated that the PAX drug introduced to the population turned one tenth of one percent of the colony's population of 30 million people into Reavers. That's 30,000 Reavers, which more than accounts for what we ever see on screen. Further, Reavers are somewhat uncommon as you get farther from Miranda. The characters are typically relaxed as they fly around, and settlements are not armed camps built to defend against Reaver attack--running into Reavers is a danger, but it's relatively rare. In fact, it's rare enough that Simon Tam likened Reavers to campfire stories. So 30,000 Reavers could pretty easily create the fuss in the system that we see depicted on the show and in the film.

The idea that the Reavers left the survivor from Bushwacked alive as a means of perpetuating their kind has flaw in it.

In the episode you cite--Bushwacked, the third episode of the series--Mal does say that the young man was driven mad by what he saw and predicts that he will begin to exhibit Reaver behavior, but he does not say that this is how Reavers recruit new numbers. In fact, this idea has a pretty big flaw in it: if the Reavers wanted to recruit this man, why didn't they take him with them? Surely he would have descended into madness just as well locked alone in a Reaver cargo hold for a few days as he did in the kitchen cabinet on his own ship. So why leave him there if he was a new recruit for the Reaver fleet? More likely they kept him alive and made him watch what he did to the rest of the settlers as an act of sheer cruelty and maybe as a living booby-trap for whoever came along to salvage the vessel. In fact, we saw that they booby trapped the ship in another manner, so the survivor as a ticking time bomb booby trap fits their modus operandi and the theme of the episode.

It is also worth noting that the young man could never be a true Reaver because he was never exposed to the PAX drug. Nowhere does it state that the Reavers harvested or used PAX, they were merely affected by it. The horrors to which the man was exposed may have driven him insane, but he would not have the chemical effect that actually makes a reaver.

  • They don't necessarily have to intend to recruit people. Perhaps some people become "reaver-like" enough to join them of their own volition. Perhaps the man left behind had no transformed enough before they left for him to join them. Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 22:25
  • When the audience first heard of Reavers, didn't someone remark that they were spreading? Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 8:01
  • 1
    Yes. I don’t have the exact quote, but there was a statement to the effect that they were increasingly encroaching in settled space. This does not necessarily mean their numbers were growing, however.
    – ruffdove
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 23:58

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